Page images
[ocr errors]



In the decease of this distinguished prelate, the Established Church of England has suffered no trifling loss. He was one of the foremost of that able band who have endeavoured in recent times to revive her spiritual life from the pure waters of the Gospel. Thoroughly attached to her institutions and heartily devoted to her interests, for more than fifty years he laboured in her service with unusual energy and zeal. Half this period he endeavoured, in England, to increase her converts, purify her communion, and enlarge her power for good. Half this period, he laboured as her chief pastor in India to organize her ecclesiastical system over that vastly-extended territory, to supply the lack of churches, to secure an adequate number of chaplains, to Christianise English society, and to consolidate her missions among the natives of the land. In spite of all deficiencies, so great was his influence and so blessed Iris labours in our eastern empire—bo found the Church so weak and small, and left it so extended, consolidated, and flourishing—that it will be long before the memory of his efforts or even their most prominent results can pass away. A few pages devoted to an outline of labours, by which the cause of Christianity was greatly advanced, will not bo unacceptable to our readers.*

The Memoir of Bishop "Wilson referred to below has been prepared by his son-in-law and first chaplain, Mr. Bateman. It is, on the whole, an excellent book, supplying abundant materials for a full and clear exhibition of the bishop's life and labours. The larger portion of the work is drawn from the bishop's own voluminous papers, and consists of extracts from his diaries, his numerous letters (of which hundreds have been consulted), and his published sermons. The connecting links, from the biographer's own hand, are well written, exhibit great good sense, are very much to the point, and convey a great deal of useful information in a precise form. But though exceedingly interesting, the work is much too long; the extracts from journals and letters are too numerous, and containing, as they often do, similar sentiments and feelings recurring at different periods of the writer's history, add nothing to the knowledge already given of

• "The Life of the Right Rev. Daniel Wilson, D.D., late Lord Bishop of Calcutta and Metropolitan of India." By the Rev. Josiah Bateman. 2 vols. Mnrrnjr. 1800.

his inner character and life. It is by no means a mere panegyric on the bishop's character and proceedings; at times distinct errors of judgment and conduct are freely acknowledged. But those who arc well acquainted with the bishop's Indian history will find many doubtful proceedings omitted, others lightly passed over; and in others, bright colours laid on where darker shades would have been more appropriate; and to a considerable extent the "warts" of the living man removed from the portrait which professes to represent him faithfully. With these drawbacks, we can heartily commend the volumes to the attention of our readers. Daniel "Wilson was born in Spitalfields in 1778, in one of the few godly families whose Christianity shone brightly in that age of infidelity and wickedness. Like many other men distinguished in the Church of God, he was blessed with a peculiarly excellent mother, whose instructions and prayers guided lus youth, who was ever Iris confidant and adviser, and retained to the last his wannest affection and esteem. The family were early conneeted with Newton, Cecil, Scott, and other leaders of the evangelical clergy of the day, and young Wilson derived considerable help from their instructions and advice. For his early education, he was greatly indebted to the well-known John Eyre, of Hackney. With a view to his settlement in the silk trade, he was apprenticed to his uncle, William Wilson, an excellent, conscientious Christian, who was carrying on a most lucrative business in the City. Thrown among yOung men, Daniel Wilson showed himself' clever, but wild, forward, and self-sufficient. He never doubted the sound doctrine in which he had been trained, but he loved it not, and did not obey it. A casual remark from one of his pious companions brought homo the truth to his mind, and gave him deep and painful convictions of sin. It was long before he found peace in Christ; for eighteen months clouds and darkness hung over his soul; but the experience he obtained, the knowledge he acquired of the human heart, and the deep impressions made of the intense value of evangelical truth, proved of lasting value in the course of his future ministry. His conversion changed the current of Iris thoughts; business became distasteful, and he conceived an ardent desire to enter the ministry, and even to become a missionary to the heathen. In this desire he was supported by the advice of Cecil, Evre, and Rowland Hill; and at length, after a few months of earnest preparation under the Rev. Josiah Pratt, he began his studies at St. Edmund's Hall, in Oxford. He worked very hard, was a most diligent student, made rapid progress, and attained a respectable scholarship. He could speak Latin fluently; and learned to write his journals in both Latin and French. He passed, with much credit, the various examinations for his degrees, both of B.A. and M.A.; obtained a University Prize for an " Essay on Common Sense," and delivered it before the University on the same day as that on which Heber delivered his well-known poem on Palestine.

After five years of study, in 1801, Mr. Wilson was ordained and entered the ministry as curate of Chobham, under his old friend Mr. Cecil. He threw great energy into his work, preached a full gospel in the plainest and most faithful manner, visited every family committed to his charge, and sought to make full proof of his ministry. His little church was soon crowded, and the curate became not only popular, but useful in all the country round.

At the end of two years he obtained a tutorship in his old Hall at Oxford, and having secured the prospect of competence and comfort, married his cousin Anne, the daughter of the wealthy uncle to whom he had been apprenticed. The marriage was a very happy one; and the union, having lasted twenty-five years, was only broken by Mrs. Wilson's lamented death. At Oxford, Mr. Wilson remained about nine years, lie was first AssistantTutor at St. Edmund's, then Tutor and Vice-Principal. He was very successful in stirring up his students to diligence in their pursuits; and above all, in drawing the hearts of many to the Cross of Christ. He read and expounded the Greek Testament with them, and aimed at improving their whole religious character, not merely at making them successful scholars. He w-as popular as a teacher; but they felt his want of geniality as a friend; and his great love of University "Order," in sticking out not only for gown but bands, secured for him the sobriquet of " Bands Wilson." Tutorship was not, however, Mr. Wilson's forte; he felt it cramp his soul, keep down his spirituality, and rob him of the satisfaction he deeply felt in seeking the conversion of souls. Ho was glad, therefore, to discharge the duties of curate to the two churches at Worton, on his uncle's property, a short distance from Oxford. Here the gospel had not been preached for many years. A series of racing and hunting curates, who filled the country round, had driven the people from Sabbath Services, and left their souls starving and . athirst. Mr. Wilson's curacy, therefore, wras a memorable one to the ignorant population. He had an excellent voice, an earnest manner, a simple, homely style, abundance of rich matter and illustration, and pressed home, with force and power, on his unlettered audience the simple gospel of divine love, of which they stood in so much need. The churches were soon crammed with interested hearers, who flocked to hear him Sabbath after Sabbath, from all the country round. There was little in the Church of England in those-days, of preaching so acceptable, so impressive, and so profitable, especially in country villages; and his days of usefulness at Worton have never been forgotten.

At length in 1809, the health of his valued friend Mr. Cecil, began to fail, and Mr. "Wilson, at the ripe age of thirty-one, was invited to succeed him in London, as minister of St. John's, Bedford-row. This Episcopal Chapel, built for the pious seceders of St. Andrew's Church, when the disreputable Sacheverel was forced upon them by Queen Anne, had long been a centre of Evangelical truth amid surrounding darkness; and under the ministry of Mr. Cecil, a large "congregation of faithful men" had been gathered, who, much as they prized church ordinances, loved gospel truth still more. Mr. Wilson had been well prepared by previous training for a full discharge of the important duties of such a responsible position. He had attained considerable scholarship; was familiar with Greek and Hebrew, reading the Bible daily m these tongues ; was a close student of the best fathers and commentators: was himself an earnest, watching, conscientious Christian; and had clear and large conceptions of the spiritual wants of men, and of the power of a pure gospel to supply all their need. As soon as he was settled as Pastor, the congregation rapidly increased, the chapel filled, and his usefulness was very great. His people were not drawn from the parish, but gathered from all parts of London; and his congregation formed a select band of the most zealous and spiritual Christians in the Church of England at that time. Many distinguished individuals are mentioned as constant attendants. The Thorntons, the Charles Grants, father and son, Mr. Stephen and liis son, Dr. Mason Good, Zachary Macaulay and his son, with many others, occupied regular seats; and Wilberforce attended occasionally. Visitors were continually arriving from all parts of the country, and in after years in India many greeted him as an old friend, to whose instructions they had often listened in St. John's. The regular congregation soon numbered 1,800 persons, of whom between six and seven hundred were communicants. His style of preaching was now thoroughly fixed, and all its peculiar excellencies were well developed. He was always a clear thinker, and the arrangement of his topics was lucid and broad. From the commencement of his ministry he was accustomed to studv commentators, and Scott was such a favourite that in the course of his life he read him through many times, and thoroughly mastered his views. "When examining any special text or subject, he covered his table with books in which he found any help; he aimed at clearness of thought, at fulness of illustration rather than originality; he began Ins preparations early, devoted many hours to his compositions; the consequence was a richness of thought and wealth of matter in his sermons which have seldom been equalled, and still more rarely excelled. In the course of four or five sermons he would quote fifty authors, and place as many as six annotations on _ a single page of his discourse. In this way ho became eminently distinguished as an expounder of the Scriptures, and whether in the pulpit or in the family, he was able to render his expositions rich with the fulness of gospel truth. His sermons were not, however, mere general statements; he mado the most close applications of truth to the conscience of his hearers, and his appeals were eloquent and powerful. He preached in a strong, clear voice; his tones were authoritative, if not pompous, and he was fond of big adjectives, which ho rolled out rotnmfo ore. Such preaching, conveying the most impressive Evangelical truth in a very attractive form, was not common in the Church of England in those days; and accompanied as it was by fervent prayers for the blessing of the Spirit, who can wonder that it was fruitful in the conversion and sanctification of many souls.

Holding this conspicuous position among the Evangelical clergy, Mr. Wilson did not confine his preaching simply to tho personal edification of his flock. From the first, he was a hearty friend and helper of tho Church Missionary and Bible Societies, and on several occasions preached and travelled on their behalf.

In tho course of these years, he published several of his sermons, especially those which were preached at missionary anniversaries or on the death of friends. He took part, also, in some warm controversies that arose, and became quite conspicuous as a champion of the Church Missionary Society against many who objected to its constitution and its proceedings. His pen was always wielded on the side of gospel truth, and of evangelical, hearty efforts for saving precious souls. Special occasions, also, he was careful to turn to account for the samo great cause. Thus, when invited to preach a University Sermon at Oxford, he deliberately chose for his topic tho subject of Regeneration; and, in expounding its author, nature, and results, denied, in the most distinct terms, the doctrine of Baptismal Grace so popular in that University. To make the case quite clear, ho quoted Bishop Larimer's sentiment that "Simon Magus after his baptism was as great a blackamoor as before it." Sentiments and language so plain as this, of course gave considerable offence, and it was long before he was invited to preach again in the same place.

In these useful and efficient labours fifteen years passed away. They were the best years of his life: his preaching, his personal influence, his usefulness, were in their prime. A severe illness, to him most unusual, at length laid him low; and, in the calm retirement of a sick room, in the devout meditations and prayers which rest secured him, he learned to acknowledge, with thank

« PreviousContinue »