Page images
PDF
EPUB

THE IMPERIAL MAGAZINE.

DECEMBER, 1831.

MEMOIR OF THE LATE DR. ANDREW THOMSON, OF EDINBURGII.

(With a Portrait.) Public men are generally considered in the light of public property, and their lives, their movements, and their character, every one thinks he has a right to scrutinize. This liberty, which appears to have grown up into a prescriptive right, is not without its advantages. It teaches the masterspirits of every age, that their conduct is watched with vigilance, that the time is at hand, when all their actions will be exhibited before the world, and transmitted with renown or infamy to the applauses or execrations of posterity. Fame, to an aspiring mind, becomes a powerful substitute for a more exalted principle; and the hopes and fears which public opinion is able to inspire, have sometimes been known to regulate the freaks of ambition, which could resist every other control.

It cannot, however, be denied, that this general claim to the right of animadverting on public characters, is occasionally attended with inconvenience to the individual who submits to the ordeal. His most retired moments are dragged into light, and, not unfrequently, his deeds are ascribed to unworthy motives. Sometimes his principles are condemned, and he stands charged with inconsistencies, because the measures he adopts are hostile to the views of those who sit in judgment upon his character.

Thrice happy is that person who preserves a conscience void of offence towards God and man. A regard to truth is the companion of his ways; he appeals to the searcher of hearts for the rectitude of his conduct; and, although he may at times err through the infirmities incident to human nature, the support which he derives from an agency that is divine, places him on a rock, which the waves of ambition, and the fluctuations of human opinions, assail in vain. It is in this light that we must survey the lamented subject of this memoir.

Dr. Andrew THOMSON was born on July 11th, 1779, but with the exact place of his nativity we have not been made acquainted. His early education was under the immediate superintendence of his excellent father, who spared no pains to direct his mind into the paths of useful knowledge, and to impress upon it the nature and importance of genuine religion. In addition to this source of instruction, it was his felicity to enjoy the intimate friendship of the venerable Sir Henry Moncreiff, who soon discovered that he possessed talents of a superior order; and to aid in their cultivation, he seized every opportunity of imparting to him the ample stores of his own vigorous and wealthy mind. The competence of Sir Henry Montcreiff for this friendly but pleasing task, no one will doubt, who is acquainted with his character, and with that extensive knowledge which he acquired from experience, during the long period in which he stood at the head of one of the parties that divided the national church. 2D. SERIES, NO. 12.- VOL. I.

3 Y

156,--VOL. XIII,

Nor were these instructions imparted in vain. The prolific soil soon yielded the promise of an abundant harvest. This prospect animated the preceptor, and his unremitting assiduities were rewarded with the undeviating attention and rapid progress of the pupil, who, destined to minister in the sanctuary, directed all his energies towards the duties of his profession. In these he found an ample field for the exercise of every talent. There were outworks to be fortified, and defended against foreign assailants, and vigilance was required to preserve order at home. The holy doctrines promulgated were to be preserved from impure mixtures, and discipline was to be maintained, to secure the sacred enclosure against the wild boar of the forest. He saw and felt, long before he was called into actual service, that the task was arduous, but, casting his care on an Almighty arm, and being actuated by conscientious motives, he waited until his way was made clear, and, being ordained to the work of the ministry, in 1802, he commenced his pastoral labours in the Scottish church, to which he was attached from principle, and not convenience or accident, and of which he soon became a burning and a shining light.

Though long known as an able preacher, the powers of Dr. Thomson's mind were not fully developed until his appointment to St. George's church, in Edinbugh. This being one of the larger and genteeler parishes in the Scottish metropolis, called forth all his energies ; but, entering on his charge under a deep sense of his important undertaking, and a humble reliance for aid from above, he was happily sustained, and soon had the satisfaction of knowing that his labours had been blessed, and his efforts approved by those among whom he had been called to minister.

Yet nothing perhaps tended so much, and so deservedly, to endear him to his congregation, as his attention to the sick and the

young.

These were the objects of his constant solicitude; and no opportunity was neglected by him, to warn the careless of their danger, to encourage the penitent, and to prepare the dying for a world of spirits.

In the Calvinistic sense of the term, Dr. Thomson was decidedly evangelical ; but his sermons were chiefly of a practical nature, and he rarely entered into abstruse speculations, or bewildered his hearers with philosophical perplexities. This prudent reserve, however, bore no affinity to indifference. He was sensitively alive to every feature of his creed, and was always ready, as well as able, to defend even its minutest peculiarities against all assailants.

So far as party was concerned, Dr. Thomson belonged to that portion which defended the rights of the people against the rigorous enforcement of the law of patronage. Of late years, he devoted much of his time to the means of circulating the holy Scriptures, without any deviation from the authorized version, and without addition or adulteration from apocrypha, note, or comment. Another important subject, in the issue of which he remained deeply interested to the last, was, the emancipation of the West India slaves. Of these momentous topics he never lost sight; and his rigorous adherence to them, frequently involved him in discussions on questions not immediately connected with either.

But while, on the one hand, these contests tended to increase and confirm his popularity ; by ruffling his spirit, they sometimes, on the other, exposed him to severe animadversions. Nothing, however, could shake his resolution; and this adherence to principle, brought upon him the charge of obstinacy, which on some occasions it would be difficult to repel.

[ocr errors]

Of the doctrines which Dr. Thomson taught, and the character which he sustained, Dr. Chalmers has furnished a copious outline, in his funeral sermon on the occasion of his death.

“First, then, in briefest definition, his was the olden theology of Scotland. A thoroughly devoted son of the church, he was, through life, the firm, the unflinching advocate of its articles, and its formularies, and its rights, and the whole polity of its constitution and discipline. His creed he derived by inheritance from the fathers of the Scottish Reformation, not, however, as based on human authority, but as based and upholden on the authority of Scripture alone. Its two great articles are-justification, only by the righteousness of Christ-sanctification, only by that Spirit which Christ is commissioned to bestow : the one derived to the believer by faith; the other derived by faith too, because obtained and realized in the exercise of believing prayer."

As an indirect apology for any thing that may appear intolerant in Dr. Thomson's character, Dr. Chalmers in the above sermon has introduced, among others, the following ingenious observations.

“ Justice is a determinate virtue; and why ?–because the precise line which separates it from its opposite, admits of being drawn with rigid and arithmetical precision ; and he who transgresses this line, by the minutest fraction, is clearly and distinctly chargeable with injustice. Generosity again is an indeterminate virtue ; and why ?–because there is no such detinite line of separation between this virtue, and its counterpart vice, as that you could pass by instant transition from it to its opposite. It is not then with a determinate, as with an indeterminate virtue. You cannot tamper with it, even to the extent of the humblest fraction, without making an entire sacrifice. This will at once prepare you to understand, what I have taken the liberty of terming a characteristic of his theology, whose general character, I have described as being the theology of the church of Scotland. The peculiarity lay in this, that, present him with a measure, and he, of all other men, saw at once, and with the force of instant discernment, the principle that was imbodied in it.

And did that principle belong to the class of the determinate, he furthermore saw, with every sound moralist before him, that he could not recede, by one inch or hair-breadth, from the assertion of it, without making a virtual surrender of the whole."

The truth of the above sentiments, taken in the abstract, no friend to christianity can justly doubt. It is, however, equally clear, that in many cases an application of the doctrine thus inculcated, will be attended with danger, and will sometimes involve the most pernicious consequences. That man only has nothing to fear, who can securely take his seat in the chair of infallibility.

Of Dr. Thomson's mental energies, of his acute reasoning powers, and the vast comprehensiveness of his mind, many of his speeches, now on record, will furnish some illustrious examples. On one occasion, at the Dumfriesshire Bible Society, in bringing charges against the managers of the British and Foreign Bible Society, when the question of the Apocrypha was agitated in many parts of the united kingdom, he spoke nearly three hours, was heard in solemn silence with the deepest interest, and, at the conclusion, was saluted with thunders of applause. In this luminous display of argumentative eloquence, the vigilance with which he had observed the proceedings of the society, the consequences which he dragged into public notice, and the ardent jealousy with which he watched over the pure and unadulterated word of God, are all equally

apparent. It was electrifying to those who heard his voice, and it will long be preserved as a monument of fearless intrepidity.

In Dr. Thomson, the enslaved negroes always found an able advocate and a genuine friend. To slavery, in all its forms, he was a decided enemy. In gradual emancipation he perceived the perpetuity of servitude ; and contend d, that as a resolution to liberate the African in any form, and at any time, was an acknowledgment of injustice in their compulsive detention, so procrastination would inevitably involve the pernicious principle of “ doing evil that good might come.” But on this melancholy subject all argument seems to have lost its influence. The slave-holder, encased in armour of more than “close-hammer'd steel,” is invulnerable to every thing besides interest and passion ; and to him, humanity, justice, and reason, have thus far been compelled to plead in vain.

But it is not merely in suffering the prolongation of the slave-trade, and of slavery, that the ways of heaven appear “ dark and intricate.” In the prime of life, in the zenith of his usefulness, secure in the confidence of a host of friends, and while floating on a tide of well-earned popularity, the subject of this memoir was called by the mandate of the Almighty to terminate his labours, and give an account of his stewardship. The death of this highly talented man was both sudden and unexpected ; and when the awful event occurred, it created a sensation in Edinburgh which the lapse of many years will not obliterate from the minds of the inhabitants.

On the 9th of February 1831, having attended a meeting of the Presbytery, and, with his usual acuteness, taken an active part in the business of the day, he returned homeward about five o'clock, expecting the company of some friends to dine with him. Apparently in excelient health, he walked towards his house conversing on the affairs of the presbytery with his friends, until they parted at his own door in Melville-street. He had not, however, time to enter, for, when on the threshold, the hand of death arrested him, and he sunk to the ground in a state of insensibility, and never spoke again. On being borne into his house by some persons who were passing, medical aid was instantly procured, but every effort was unavailing. The vital spark had for ever fled, and, as the melancholy tidings were quickly circulated, all ranks of people felt the shock, and the whole city seemed enveloped in a solemn gloom.

His funeral was most numerously and respectably attended. The highest functionaries of the city honoured the procession with their presence. Never,” says an eye-witness, “was there such an assemblage of attendants on any funeral procession in this city before; and never such a concourse of spectators of any such procession. Nor would it be easy to say, whether the grief and sobbing of the two thousand attendants on his bier, were not equalled by the solemn stillness, and heaving sighs, and dropping tears of the ten thousand spectators by whom the streets were lined, and the windows crowded, and the very house-tops clothed wherever the procession moved along.

Among the religious denominations, every one was forward to pay a justly deserved tribute of respect to his memory. Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Secession church, Cameronians, Quakers, Independents, Methodists, and Baptists, mingled in the mournful throng. Even those who had differed from him in sentiment, and occasionally opposed his measures, lost sight of local distinctions, and participated in the general grief. At the time of the funeral, all the shops were shut, in the streets through which the procession passed. His remains were interred in a grave at St. John's Chapel.

Dr. Thomson has left a widow and seven children, five of whom are daughters; and, we are sorry to learn, without having made for them that provision which their rank in life might justly require. The liberality of his surviving friends has however, we understand, been exerted with laudable success in supplying the deficiency. About £7000 had been subscribed shortly after his remains were committed to the tomb, and an augmentation was reasonably anticipated. In addition to the above, the following letter, which we presume is genuine, will be perused with pleasure by every lover of humanity and intellectual worth.

“ We have just seen å private letter, written by a Scottish gentleman now in London, which conveys the truly pleasing intelligence, that Lord Chancellor Brougham waited upon his Majesty, and intimated to him-no doubt in the most dutiful and impressive manner--the heavy loss which the religious world generally, and the Church of Scotland in particular, had sustained by the early, unlooked for, and lamented death of her greatest champion since the time of John Knox. As the Lord Chancellor was the personal friend of Dr. Thomson, had studied under the same professors, debated in the same college halls, mingled in the same amusements, and shared the same hospitalities of the same friendly roof-not a doubt can exist that the portrait he drew of him was faithful to the life; and, such was the impression made on the royal mind, that his Majesty immediately, in his own plain and unaffected manner, expressed a wish that something should be done for the widow of so good and great a man. With the royal sanction so strikingly in its favour, this object was speedily accomplished, and we understand the necessary steps have been taken for securing Mrs. Thomson a pension of 1501. per annum for life. It is farther said, that Dr. Thomson's eldest son is about to be appointed, through the same influence, professor of music in the University of London, a situation for which he is eminently qualified."-Dumfries Courier.

The following is a list of Dr. Thomson's works :

Sermons on Various Subjects. 8vo. Sermons on Infidelity. Post 8vo. Lectures on Portions of the Psalms. Lectures Expository and Practical on Select Portions of Scripture. The Doctrine of Universal Pardon considered and Refuted, in a Series of Sermons, with Notes critical and expository, 2d edition. The Sin and Danger of being Lovers of Pleasure more than Lovers of God, stated and illustrated in two Discourses, 3d edition. On Hearing the Word. The Young warned against the Enticements of Sinners. An Address, to Christian Parents on the Religious Education of their Children, 3d edition. A Collection, in Prose and Verse, for the use of Schools, 3d edition; and other School Books. Catechism on the Sacrament, and for the Young. Various Speeches in Assembly-On the Apocryphal Controversy, and against Slavery. A Sermon on the Death of Sir Henry Moncreiff, 5th edition. Various single Sermons. Numerous articles in the Edinburgh Christian Instructor, &c.

Of this highly esteemed and deeply regretted minister of the gospel, we shall conclude this memoir, with an extract from an extended and able delineation of his character, by the Rev. D. M‘Crie, inserted at large in the Edinburgh Christian Instructor for February, 1831.

“ Great as Dr. Thomson's popularity was, and few men in his sphere of life ever rose so high in popular favour, he was not exposed to the wo denounced against those of whom all men speak well.' He had his detractors and enemies, who waited for his halting, and were prepared to magnify and blazon his faults. Of him it may be said, as of another Christian patriot, no man ever loved or hated him moderately. This was

« PreviousContinue »