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ART. I.-JOHN WARBURTON.
Mercies of a Covenant God: being an account of some of the Lord's Dealings in Providence and Grace with John Warburton. Minister of the Gospel, Trowbridge. Fourth edition. London: Gadsby, Bouverie Street, Fleet Street.
TEARLY a quarter of a century ago, soon after the Lord had thrust us into the ministry, we chanced to take up in a friend's house a goodly sized volume, bearing the somewhat quaint title of "The Bank of Faith, by William Huntington, S.S." At the time we were burdened with an almost intollerable sense of unfitness for the work in which we were engaged, and furious waves of temptation to flee into retirement dashing in upon our spirits, we felt as if we should perish. We read a few pages of the "Bank of Faith" as we sat in the house of our friend, and such was the strength and comfort their perusal imparted, that we eagerly asked for the loan of the book. We have not seen the work from that day to this; but the recollection of its contents, of the elevated tone of piety which pervaded its pages, and, above all, of the blessing it was made to an agitated and afflicted heart, remain with us to this hour.
The man whose history it relates was one of the religious celebrities of his day. His name is yet had in affectionate remembrance by the section of the Church of Christ of which he was a minister. Like many of the same school of preachers, he was a singularity: combining acute intellectualism with freakish eccentricity, and deep, adoring, self-abasing piety with a narrow and rigid creed, which led him (or we are much mistaken) to regard as blind leaders of the blind all who allowed any freedom to man's will in matters of religion.
The thought remains with us that Huntington was for many years a poor half-starved village shoemaker, somewhere in the south of England, who, soon after being brought to "taste and see VOL. V. No. 1.-NEW SERIES.
that the Lord is gracious," began to preach the Gospel in the neighbouring hamlets. After a while he removed to London, where he earned a living as a coalheaver. Continuing to preach in and around the huge city, be soon became known as the coalheaving parson, to whom, in course of time, was gathered a large number of admirers, who built him a good chapel and paid him a good salary; so that, although he began his preaching life in the depths of poverty, he ended it in a suburban mansion, with a footman to wait upon him and a carriage and pair to take him to and from his chapel.
An illustration of the oddities in which he indulged may be seen in the title "S.S." which he affixed to his name. He had not, he said, learning enough to gain "LL.D." nor money enough to buy "D.D.," but as a title of some sort was necessary to enable him to rank with the popular preachers of the day, he adopted that of "S.S.," which meant Sinner Saved, that being the fittest and most expressive one he could think of.
We have referred to Huntington and his book because the one before us, and its writer, are akin in almost all respects. True, Warburton did not rise so high in the social scale as Huntington, nor does he seem to have possessed such a vein of humour and drollery; but there is in Warburton the same or even more childlike confidence in God, and more adoring love to Jesus, whilst his book is equal or superior to the "Bank of Faith," as a development of the ups and downs, the trials and deliverances of the religious life. As a piece of autobiography, opening out and laying bare the inner life of man, both before and after conversion, we know nothing like it. It is singularly and severely honest. The author tells us of his sins and follies without reserve, and without making the least attempt at excuse or extenuation. No one can read the book without feeling that its writer was willing to be nothing that Christ might be all in all in the estimation of every reader. To the doctrine of the Gospel Warburton was ardently attached. He could not believe in the possibility of saving religion apart from sound doctrine. The theory of many religious writers of the day, that creedal Christianity ought to be shelved, and the spirit and practice of Christianity brought more into the foreground, received unqualified reprehension from his lips and pen. He could see no streams where the fountain did not exist; no sunshine where the sun himself was concealed; no intelligent humanity from which the soul had taken its flight. To have peace, confidence, and hope in God, Warburton must know God in his electing love, the Saviour in his vicarious sacrifice, and the Holy Spirit in his enlightening, regenerating, and adopting mercy. The triune Jehovah, the incarnation of the Eternal Word, the agonies of the garden and of the cross, the resurrection of the Crucified
One, the perpetual advocacy of the Daysman: these, together with those already named, formed the staple of his pulpit addresses; for out of those facts grew the doctrines of true religion, and from the doctrines, or from true faith in them, came the mind that was in Christ the will and the power to live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present world. We are not required to give our adhesion to all Warburton's doctrinal views that we may approve of their leading principle; therefore we hesitate not to say that if the creeds of the Bible be ignored or kept out of sight, we have nothing upon which a life of holiness can be built; we have but a castle in the air, a house built upon the sand, an ignus fatuus! The book before us is a singularly fascinating one. critic said of a celebrated Frenchwoman's letters, may be said of Warburton's "Mercies": we can "scarcely find out the secret of its power." Certainly the book throws a wonderful fascination over the reader; for once begin a perusal of it, and it is next to impossible to lay it down till the word "Finis" is reached, and then (we blush to say it) we are almost angry with the good old man for not telling us more of the Lord's dealings with him. It is not simply the events themselves which charm us; for the "Lord's dealings" with a living celebrity are equally, yea even more wonderful than those which Warburton relates; (and yet we can lay that book down without feelings of annoyance); nor is it chiefly in the style in which Warburton tells his stories, for in many respects that is susceptible of much improvement. But there is a vivacity, a simplicity, an honesty, an unction, a power, a something which goes right to the heart, fastening the eye to the page, and thrilling the soul with emotions which we have no desire to repress, and making us wish that the Church of Christ had, as its ministers, more of such tried and afflicted men.
There are one or two unhappy defects in this incomparable narrative which we hope will soon be removed. Mr. J. C. Philpot, an accomplished minister of the body to which Warburton belonged, seems to have had something to do with editing the work before us; for we can scarcely believe that a man of Warburton's limited scholarship could have produced a book so free as this is from defects incident to a writer like Warburton. We are, therefore, surprised that Philpot should have allowed so many expressions and designations to be put into print as the volume before us contains, whose only tendency is to make the friends of the dear old man wish that some other had been used in their place.
For example: he calls himself names which, but for the evident honesty and sincerity which other parts of the book show us the good man possessed, are calculated to foster the supposition that he was at times given to indulge in cant. He calls himself, for in
stance, a "fool," a "complete fool," an "old fool," a "beast," a "dragon," an "old wretch," a "hypocrite," an "owl," a "blind bat," and a "brat of hell!" Such foul and abusive epithets, applied to one's self, are obviously unbecoming, and can only excite pity for the man who uses them; and although using them in reference to himself no one can indict him for libel for having so used them, we think his better part must have at times reproved him for having classed himself--a chosen vessel, a jewel of the Lord, an heir of God, and joint heir with Christ-with some of the baser parts of the brute creation. But our friends, the hyper Calvinists, are fond of singular paradoxes.
The book also abounds with an expression which, because of its character and the frequency of its use in various forms, goes far towards making the narrative unhealthy and repulsive. "My soul," my "very soul," my "poor soul," meet us on almost every page, and occasionally turn up as often as twice or thrice in a sentence. This almost compels us to think that Warburton, like some unmarried women we have known, lived very much in the region of self-pity, looked upon himself as a deeply-injured man, and wrote his book to elicit the compassion of the tender-hearted and benevolent. And yet the general character of the narrative gives us a different opinion of the man, leading us to believe that he was the soul of honour, uprightness, and independence. The narrative will go down to posterity in company with Huntington's "Bank of Faith," and Bunyan's "Grace Abounding "; let some one, therefore, who has the right, revise its pages and strike out the sickly words to which we have alluded.
Mr. Philpot, to whom we have referred as having had something to do with the book before us, thus touchingly refers to its remarkable subject: "No written words can portray his venerable appearance, as he stood in the pulpit, his expressive countenance, his voice so full and clear, yet possessing a peculiar pathos and feeling which went straight to the heart, as I never heard any other; his simple child-like prayers, so full of honest confession, yet breathing such a spirit of filial confidence; his solemnity of manner and the command which almost every accent of his tongue exercised over the congregation, especially when his own soul was under the recent bedewings and melting influences of the Holy Ghost."
We have taken our pen to give our readers a few choice morsels from this charming compendium of deliverances wrought out by the hand of God for one who fought the good fight for full half a century. It is a book of spiritual wonders. It plainly declares that "there is a God in heaven who revealeth secrets." It shows that poverty, trial, and sorrow may co-exist with filial piety of the highest order. We wish that every tried Christian had a copy within his reach; it would often prove a present help in time of need.