Page images

external glory, with a visible train and equipage ; when, from all the provinces of his vast and boundless empire, he summons his nobles, as I

may so say — the several orders of angels and archangels — to attend his person, though we cannot tell the form or manner of his appearance, we know there is nothing in our experience, or in the whole history of this world, that can be a just representation of the least part of it. No armies so numerous as the host of Heaven; and, instead of the wild noises of the rabble, which makes a great part of our worldly state, this blessed company will breathe their hallelujahs into the open air, and repeated acclamations of salvation to God, which sits upon the throne, and to the Lamb. ...

Imagine all Nature now standing in a silent expectation to receive its last doom ; the tutelary and destroying angels to have their instructions ; every thing to be ready for the fatal hour; and then, after a little silence, all the host of heaven to raise their voice, and sing aloud: Let God arise ; let his enemies be scattered; as smoke is driven away, so drive them away; As wax melteth before the fire, so let the wicked perish at the presence of God. And upon this, as upon a signal given, all the sublunary world breaks into flames, and all the treasures of fire are opened in heaven and in earth.

Thus the conflagration begins. If one should now go about to represent the world on fire, with all the confusions that necessarily must be in nature and in mankind upon that occasion, it would seem to most men a romantic scene. Yet we are sure there must be such a scene. The heavens will pass away with a noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat, and all the works of the earth will be burnt up; and these things cannot come to pass without the greatest disorders imaginable, both in the minds of man and in external nature, and the saddest spectacles that eye can behold. We think it a great matter to see a single person burnt alive ; here are millions shrieking in the flames at once. It is frightful to us to look upon a great city in flames, and to see the distractions and misery of the people; here is an universal fire through all the cities of the earth, and an universal massacre of their inhabitants. Whatsoever the prophets foretold of the desolations of Judea, Jerusalem, or Babylon, in the highest strains, is more than literally accomplished in this last and general calamity; and those only that are spectators of it can make its history.

The disorders in nature and the inanimate world will be no less, nor less strange and unaccountable, than those in mankind. Every element and every region, so far as the bounds of this fire extend, will be in a tumult and a fury, and the whole habitable world running into confusion. A world is sooner destroyed than made ; and nature relapses hastily into that chaos state out of which she came by slow and leisurely motions : as an army advances into the field by just and regular marches; but,



when it is broken and routed, it flies with precipitation, and one cannot describe its posture. Fire is a barbarous enemy; it gives no mercy ; there is nothing but fury and rage, and ruin and destruction, wheresoever it prevails. A storm, or hurricane, though it be but the force of air, makes a strange havoc where it comes; but devouring flames, or exhalations set on fire, have still a far greater violence, and carry more terror along with them. Thunder and earthquakes are the sons of fire ; and we know nothing in all nature more impetuous or more irresistibly destructive than these two. And, accordingly, in this last war of the elements, we may be sure they will bear their parts, and do great execution in the several regions of the world. Earthquakes and subterraneous eruptions will tear the body and bowels of the earth ; and thunders and convulsive motions of the air rend the skies. The waters of the sea will boil and struggle with streams of sulphur that run into them; which will make them fume, and smoke, and roar, beyond all storms and tempests; and these noises of the sea will be answered again from the land by falling rocks and mountains. This is a small part of the disorders of that day. . .

But if we suppose the storm over, and that the fire hath got an entire victory over all other bodies, and hath subdued every thing to itself, the conflagration will end in a deluge of fire, or in a sea of fire, covering the whole globe of the earth ; for, when the exterior region of the earth is melted into a fluor, like molten glass or running metal, it will, according to the nature of other fluids, fill all vacuities and depressions, and fall into a regular surface, at an equal distance every where from its centre. This sea of fire, like the first abyss, will cover the face of the whole earth, make a kind of second chaos, and leave a capacity for another world to rise from it. But that is not our present business. Let us only, if you please, to take leave of this subject, reflect, upon this occasion, on the vanity and transient glory of all this habitable world; how, by the force of one element breaking loose upon the rest, all the varieties of nature, all the works of art, all the labours of men, are reduced to nothing; all that we admired and adored before as great and magnificent is obliterated or banished ; and another form and face of things, plain, simple, and every where the same, overspreads the whole earth. Where are now the great empires of the world, and their great imperial cities? Their pillars, trophies, and monuments of glory? Show me where they stood ; read the inscription ; tell me the victor's name. What remains, what impressions, what difference or distinction, do you see in this mass of fire ? Rome itself, eternal Rome, the great city, the Empress of the world, whose domination and superstition, ancient and modern, make a great part of the history of this earth, what is become of her now? She laid her foundations deep, and her palaces were strong and sumptuous ; she glorified herself

and lived deliciously, and said in her heart, I sit a queen, and shall see no sorrow. But her hour is come, she is wiped away from the face of the earth, and buried in perpetual oblivion. But it is not cities only, and works of men's hands, but the everlasting hills and mountains and rocks of the earth are melted as wax before the sun ; and their place is nowhere found. Here stood the Alps, a prodigious range of stone, the load of the earth, that covered many countries, and reached their arms from the ocean to the Black Sea : this huge mass of stone is softened and dissolved, as a tender cloud into rain. Here stood the African mountains, and Atlas with his top above the clouds. There was frozen Caucasus, and Taurus, and Imaus, and the mountains of Asia. And yonder, towards the north, stood the Riphæan Hills, clothed in ice and snow. All these are vanished, dropt away as the snow upon their heads, and swallowed up in a red sea of fire. Great and marvellous are thy works, Lord God Almighty ; just and true are thy ways, thou King of Saints ! Hallelujah.


ANOTHER name that may be here mentioned is that of Archbishop Tillotson, who was a very popular preacher among the Presbyterians before the Restoration, and began publishing sermons so early as in the year 1661, while he still belonged to that sect. He died in 1694, in his sixty-fourth year. Tillotson's Sermons, still familiarly known by reputation, long continued to be the most generally esteemed collection of such compositions in the language ; but are probably now very little read. They are substantial performances, such as make the reader feel, when he has got through one of them, that he has accomplished something of a feat; and, being withal as free from pedantry and every other kind of eccentricity or extravagance as from flimsiness, and exceedingly sober in their strain of doctrine, with a certain blunt cordiality in the expression and manner, they were in all respects very happily addressed to the ordinary peculiarities of the national mind and character. But, having once fallen into neglect, Tillotson's writings have no qualities that will ever revive attention to them. There is much more of a true vitality in the sermons of Dr. Robert South, whose career of authorship commenced in the time of the Protectorate, though his life was extended till after the

accession of George I. He died in 1716, at the age of eightythree. South's sermons, the first of which dates even before the earliest of Tillotson's, and the last after Tillotson's latest, are very well characterized by Mr. Hallam :-—“ They were,” he observes, "much celebrated at the time, and retain a portion of their renown. This is by no means surprising. South had great qualifications for that popularity which attends the pulpit, and his manner was at that time original. Not diffuse, nor learned, nor formal in argument like Barrow, with a more natural structure of sentences, a more pointed though by no means a more fair and satisfactory turn of reasoning, with a style clear and English, free from all pedantry, but abounding with those colloquial novelties of idiom, which, though now become vulgar and offensive, the age of Charles II. affected, sparing no personal or temporary sarcasm, but, if he seems for a moment to tread on the verge of buffoonery, recovering himself by some stroke of vigorous sense and language: such was the worthy Dr. South, whom the courtiers delighted to hear. His sermons want all that is called unction, and sometimes even earnestness; but there is a masculine spirit about them, which, combined with their peculiar characteristics, would naturally fill the churches where he might be heard.”] Both South and Tillotson are considered to belong as divines to the Arminian, or, as it was then commonly called, the Latitudinarian school, as well as Cudworth, More, and Stillingfleet.

A few paragraphs from one of his discourses against long and extempore prayers, on Ecclesiastes v. 2, “Be not rash with thy mouth,” etc., will exemplify his lively and pregnant style of preaching:

And, thus having shown how the Almighty utters himself when he speaks, and that upon the greatest occasions, let us now descend from heaven to earth, from God to man, and show that it is no presumption for us to conform our words, as well as our actions, to the supreme pattern; and, according to our poor measures, to imitate the wisdom that we adore. And for this, has it not been noted by the best observers and the ablest judges, both of things and persons, that the wisdom of any people or nation has been most seen in the proverbs and short sayings commonly received amongst them ? And what is a proverb, but the experience and observation of several ages, gathered and summed up into one expression ? The Scripture vouches Solomon for the wisest of men ; and they are his

1 Lit. of Europe, iv. 56.

Proverbs that prove him so. The seven wise men of Greece, so famous for their wisdom all the world over, acquired all that fame, each of them, by a single sentence consisting of two or three words; and yvôái ceavtòv (Know thyself) still lives and flourishes in the mouths of all, while many vast volumes are extinct, and sunk into dust and utter oblivion. And then, for books : we shall generally find that the most excellent, in any art or science, have been still the smallest and most compendious : and this not without ground; for it is an argument that the author was a master of what he wrote, and had a clear notion and a full comprehension of the subject before him. For the reason of things lies in a little compass, if the mind could at any time be so happy as to light upon it. Most of the writings and discourses in the world are but illustration and rhetoric, which signifies as much as nothing to a mind eager in pursuit after the causes and philosophical truth of things. It is the work of fancy to enlarge, but of judgment to shorten and contract; and therefore this must needs be as far above the other as judgment is a greater and a nobler faculty than fancy or imagination. All philosophy is reduced to a few principles, and those principles comprised in a few propositions. And, as the whole structure of speculation rests upon three or four axioms or maxims, so that of practice also bears upon a very small number of rules. And surely there was never yet any rule or maxim that filled a volume, or took up a week's time to be got by heart. No, these are the apices rerum, the tops and sums, the very spirit and life of things extracted and abridged ; just as all the lines drawn from the vastest circumference do at length meet and unite in the smallest of things, a point: and it is but a very little piece of wood with which a true artist will measure all the timber in the world. The truth is, there could be no such thing as art or science could not the mind of man gather the general natures of things out of the numberless heap of particulars, and then bind them up into such short aphorisms or propositions, that so they may be made portable to the memory, and thereby become ready or at hand for the judgment to apply and make use of, as there shall be occasion.

In fine, brevity and succinctness of speech is that which, in philosophy or speculation, we call maxim, and first principle ; in the counsels and resolves of practical wisdom, and the deep mysteries of religion, oracle ; and lastly, in matters of wit, and the finenesses of imagination, epigram. All of them, severally and in their kinds, the greatest and the noblest things that the mind of man can show the force and dexterity of its faculties in.

And now, if this be the highest excellency and perfection of speech in all other things, can we assign any true, solid reason why it should not be likewise in prayer? Nay, is there not rather the clearest reason imagiable why it should be much more so; since most of the forementioned

« PreviousContinue »