Page images

lisp out the praises of God, and unfold his wants in prayer before the throne of grace. In the sixth year of his age, he was entered at the public school of his native town, to learn the rudiments of Latin. There he continued three years; at the end of which space, his mother's brother, the learned Peter Gerhard, took him to his own house, and under his own immediate tuition.

Under the care of his good uncle, Witsius made so rapid a progress in learning, that, before he was fifteen years old, he could not only speak and write the Latin language correctly, and with some degree of fluency, but could also readily interpret the books of the Greek Testament, and the orations of Isocrates, and render the Hebrew commentaries of Samuel into Latin: At the same time giving the etymology of the original words, and assigning the reasons of the variations of the pointing grammatically. He had, likewise, now acquired some knowledge of philosophy; and had so far made himself master of logic, that when he was removed to the university, he needed no preceptor to instruct him in that art. He learned also, while he continued with his uncle, Walaus's and Burgersdicius's Compendiums of Ethics: Which latter author he plied so diligently, that he could at any time repeat by heart the quotations cited by him from any of the ancient writers, whether Greek or Latin. He acquainted himself, too, with the elements of natural philosophy and metapbysics; and, as his uncle always kept him usefully employed, he was likewise master, and that almost by heart, of Windelin's Compendium of Theology: The good man deeming it an essential and special part of his duty to make his nephew, from his carliest youth, intimately Fersed in matters of divinity.

His uncle himself had, from his own childhood, been inured to sanctify the ordinary actions and offices of life, by sending up ejaculatory aspirations to Gon, suitable to the business he was about; in order to which, he had made his memory the store-house of some more eminently useful and familiar texts of Scripture, both of the Old and New Testament, which related or might be accom- ' modated to every part of common life; so that, when he Jay down, rose up, dressed, washed, walked abroad, studied, or did any thing else, he could repeat apposite passages from the holy Scriptures in their original language: of either Hebrew or Greek; thereby, in a very eminent manner, acknowledging God in all his ways, and doing


whatsoever he did to his glory. This same excellent practice he recommended to his nephew; which had so happy an effect, that very many portions, both of the Hebrew Bible and Greek Testament, were, in his youth, so deeply impressed on Witsius's memory, that, even in his old age, he never forgot them.

From his uncle's care he was removed to Utrecht. What chiefly recommended this place to him, were the advantages he hoped to gain from the lectures and conversaiion of those very famous divines, who, at that time, flourished there; especially Maatsius, Hoornbeck, and Gisbert Voetius. Hither, therefore, he came, A. D. 1651, and in the fifteenth year of his age. But, just before he reached Utrecht, Maatsius was gathered to his fathers; so that, on his arrival, he had only the melancholy satisfaction of hearing the great Hoornbeck pronounce the funeral oration over his much-loved friend and colleague. Here he went through a prodigious course of oriental learning; and he very early gave a specimen of his great proficiency in the Hebrew tongue, by composing a most elegant and masterly oration in that language, De Messia Judæorum et Christianorum; which, at the request of his master Leusden, he pronounced, with great applause, before the university, A. D. 1654, and in the eighteenth year of his age. Though he was thus devoted to matters of literature, he, nevertheless, set apart the greater portion of his time for the study of divinity, to which, as he rightly judged, the others were to act in subserviency. In order to proceed properly in this greatest and best of sciences, he put himself under the guidance of such theological professors as were most eminent for profound learning and the exactest skill in the sacred volumes: These were Gisbert Voetius, John Hoornbeck, Walter Bruinius, and Andrew Essenius. About this time, he had a great desire of repairing to Groningen, chiefly with a view to see and hear the celebrated Maresius, then professor of divinity in that university. Hither, therefore, he repaired, towards the latter end of the year 1654. Being arrived, he devoted himse entirely to divinity, under the sole guidance of Maresius, and entered on the exercises previous to preaching. These he performed in the French tongue; and acquitted himself entirely to the satisfaction of his tutor. Having spent a year at Groningen, and obtained ample testimonials of his good behaviour and great abilities from the college of divines, he determined for Leyden: But, having received information that the plague was making great havoc in that city; he changed his mind, and resolved to revisit Utrecht, that be might there perfect himself in divinity.


On his return to Utrecht, he not only, as formerly, attended all the divinity lectures, both public and private, of the several professors, but entered into a strict and thorough intimacy with that very excellent divine, Bogaerdtius, than whom, Witsius was of opinion, a greater man never lived. From his lectures, conversation, example, and prayers, through the grace of the Divine Spirit, Witsius was enlightened into the mysteries of the Redeemer's kingdom, and led into the comfortable, heartfelt enjoyment of inward, spiritual, and experimental Christianity. Through his means, he first learned hov widely different that knowledge of divine things is, which flows from mere learning, study, and acquisition, from that sublime and heaven-taught wisdom, which is the result of fellowship with Christ by the Holy Ghost; and which, through his own powerful influences on the hearts of his elect, gloriously conforms the believing soul more and more to the blessed image of its Divine Saviour.

Witsius always humbly and thankfully acknowledged, that Bogaerdtius was the instrument God made use of, to lead him into the innermost temple of holy love and gracious experience; whereas, till then, he stood only in the outer court: But from thenceforward, disclaiming all vain wisdom and self-dependence, he was happily brought to sit down at the feet of Jesus, simply to learn the

mysteries of his grace from his blessed teachings alone, and to receive his kingdom as a little child. Nor vet was he so taken up with these delightful and sublime matters, as to omit or slight his academical studies, which appeared from his Theses concerning the Trinity, written about this time: Wherein, with great learning and singular ability, he proved that important doctrine from the writings of the ancient Jews, and shewed how very far the modern ones were degenerated, in that article, from their rabbins and forefathers. These Theses he debated publicly in the university, under the presidency of Leusden: And although they were opposed by some of the oldest standers and ablest disputants in the college, yet Leusden was of opinion, that his young pupil defended his positions so well, and maintained his ground in so firm and masterly a manner, as to stand in need of no assistance from him : Wherefore he sat by the whole time, without interposing one word, but left Witsius entirely to himself. And it being customary there, when disputations are over, for the defendant to return thanks to the president 'for his care and assistance; when Witsius did this, the president replied, with equal truth and politeness, · You have no reason, Sir, to make me such an acknowledgment, since you neither had, nor stood in need of any assistance from me.' This was in the year 1655, and in the nineteenth year of his age. Being, by this time, very famous in the two Universities of Utrecht and Groningen, it was thought high time for him to enter on an office, wherein he might be made of general service to the church. Wherefore he presented himself, for his preparatory examination, at Enchuysen, A. D. 1656. Here he was admitted to preach publicly; which he did with extraordinary reputation and universal applause.

At the instigation of that reverend man, John Boisus, minister of the French protestant church at Utrecht, Witsius, though naturally exceedingly bashful and diffident, was prevailed with to solicit the assembly of French divines, convened at Dort, for licence to preach publicly, and in the French language, in their churches. This he easily obtained, partly by the influence of the celebrated Anthony Hulsius, (the excellent author of the Theologia Judaica,] to whom, at the request of Boisus, Witsius had written a very elegant epistle in Hebrew. From that time forward, he often preached in French, both at Utrecht and Amsterdam; as, in the course of his ministry, he had done a considerable time before, out of the French pulpit at Leuwarden. But, thinking himself not quite perfect in that language, he purposed taking a journey into France for that end; as also, that he might have an opportunity of seeing the many eminent divines and university professors, who then flourished in the protestant parts of that kingdom. But Divine Providence was pleased to order matters otherwise; for in the year 1657, and the twenty-first of his age, he had a regular call from the church at Westwouden, to be their minister; and into this office he was initiated on the 8th of July in the same year. Here he waited on God and his church for upwards of four years; and, being in the prime of life, was the better able to discharge the duties of his function with activity and diligence. He had the satisfaction to see his labours succeed, especially among the younger sort, whom he very frequently catechized, with great sweetness and condescension, accommodating himself to their understandings, insomuch that both the children


[merged small][graphic][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][ocr errors][merged small][merged small]
« PreviousContinue »