Page images
PDF
EPUB

July 25th, 1780, a pension of 2001. a year was conferred on their author, which continued unaltered till his death.

The motives which gave rise to the present volume, are sufficiently explained by himself in his Address to the reader.

The sermons which it contains were composed at very different periods of bis life; but they were all written out anew in his own hand, and in many parts recomposed, during the course of last summer, after he had completed his eighty-second year. They were delivered to the publishers about six weeks before his death, in the form and order in which they now appear. And it may gratify his readers to know, that the last of them which he composed, though not the last in the order adopted for publication, was the sermon on “ A Life of Dissipation and Pleasure”—a sermon written with great dignity and eloquence, and which should be regarded as his solemn parting admonition to a class of men, whose conduct is highly important to the community, and whose reformation and virtue he had long laboured most zealously to promote.

The sermons which he has given to the world are universally admitted to be models in their kind; and they will long remain durable monuments of the piety, the genius, and sound judgment of their author. But they formed only a small part of the discourses he prepared for the pulpit. The remainder, modestly led him to think unfit for the press; and, influenced by an excusable solicitude for his reputation, he left behind him an explicit injunction that his numerous manuscripts should be destroyed. The greatness of their number was creditable to his professional character, and exhibited a convincing proof that his fame as a public teacher had been honourably purchased, by the most unwearied application to the private and unseen labours of his office. It rested on the uniform intrinsic excellence of his Discourses, in point of matter and composition, rather than on foreign attractions: for his delivery, though distinct, serious, and impressive, was not remarkably distinguished by that magic charm of voice and action which captivates the senses and imagination, and which, in the estimation of superficial hearers, constitutes the chief merit of a preacher.

In that department of his professional duty, which regarded the government of the church, Dr. Blair was steadily attached to the cause of moderation. From diffidence, and perhaps from a certain degree of inaptitude for extemporary speaking, he took a less public part in the contests of ecclesiastical politics than some of his contemporaries; and from the same causes, he never would consent to become Moderator of the General Assembly of the church of Scotland. But his influence among his brethren was extensive : his opinion, guided by that sound uprightness of judgment which formed the predominant feature of his intellectual character, had been always held in high respect by the friends with whom he acted; and, for many of the last years of his life, it was received by them almost as a law. The great leading principle in which they cordially concurred with him, and which directed aii their measures, was to preserve the church, on the one side, from a slavish, corrupting dependance on the civil power; and, on the other, from a greater infusion of democratical influence than is compatible with good order, and the established constitution of the country.

The reputation which he acquired in the discharge of his public duties, was well sustained by the great respectability of his private character. Deriving from family associations a strong sense of clerical decorum, feeling on his heart deep impressions of religious and moral obligation, and guided in his intercourse with the world by the same correct and delicate taste which appeared in his writings, he was eminently distinguished through life by the prudence, purity, and dignified propriety of his conduct. His mind, by constitution and culture, was admirably formed for enjoying happiness. Well balanced in itself by the nice proportion and adjustment of its faculties, it did not incline him to any of those eccentricities, either of opinion or of action, which are too often the lot of genius :-free from all tincture of envy, it delighted cordially in the prosperity and fame of his companions ; sensible to the estimation in which he himself was held, it disposed him to dwell at times on the thought of his success, with a satisfaction which he did not affect to conceal: inaccessible alike to gloomy and to peevish impressions, it was always master of its own movements, and ready, in an uncommon degree, to take an active and pleasing interest in every thing, whether important or trifling, that happened to become for the moment the object of his attention. This habit of mind, tempered with the most unsuspecting simplicity, and united to eminent talents and inflexible integrity, while it secured to the last his own relish of life, was wonderfully calculated to endear him to his friends, and to render him an invaluable member of any society to which he belonged. Accordingly there have been few men more universally respected by those who knew him, more sincerely esteemed in the circle of his acquaintance, or more tenderly beloved by those who enjoyed the blessings of his private and domestic connexion.

In April, 1748, he married his cousin Katharine Bannatine, daughter of the Reverend James Bannatine, one of the ministers of Edinburgh. By her he had a son who died in infancy, and a daughter who lived to her twenty-first

a year, the pride of her parents, and adorned with all the accomplishments that became her age

and sex. Mrs. Blair herself, a woman of great good sense and spirit, was also taken from him a few years before his death, after she had shared with the tenderest affection in all his fortunes, and contributed near half a century to his happiness and comfort.

Dr. Blair had been naturally of a feeble constitution of body; but as he grew up, his constitution acquired greater firmness and vigour. Though liable to occasional attacks from some of the sharpest and most painful diseases that afflict the human frame, he enjoyed a general state of good health ; and, through habitual cheerfulness, temperance, and care, survived the usual term of human life.—For some years he had felt himself unequal to the fatigue of instructing his very large congregations from the pulpit; and under the impression which this feeling produced, he has been heard at times to say with a sigh, “ that he was left almost the last of his contemporaries." Yet he continued to the end the regular discharge of all his other official duties, and particularly in giving advice to the afflicted, who, from different quarters of the kingdom, solicited his correspondence. His last summer was devoted to the preparation of this volume of sermons; and, in the course of it, he exhibited a vigour of understanding and capacity of exertion equal to that of his best days. He began the winter, pleased with himself on account of the completion of this work; and his friends were flattered with the hope that he might live to enjoy the accession of emolument and fame which he expected it would bring. But the seeds of a mortal disease were lurking unperceived within him. On the 24th of December, 1800, he complained of a pain in his bowels, which, during that and the following day, gave him but little uneasiness; and

received as usual the visits of his friends. On the afternoon of the 26th, the symptoms became violent and alarming :-he felt that he was approaching the end of his appointed course; and retaining to the last moment the full possession of his mental faculties, he expired on the morning of the 27th, with the composure and hope which become a Christian pastor.

The lamentation for his death was universal and deep through the city which he had so long instructed and adorned. Its magistrates, participating in the general grief, appointed his church to be put in mourning; and his colleague in it, the writer of this narrative, who had often experienced the inestimable value of his counsel and friendship, delivered on the sabbath after his

a

a

funeral a discourse to his congregation, with an extract from which this account shall be closed. It is inserted here at the particular request of that very respectable body of men who composed this Kirk Session, and who, by their public approbation of this tribute to his memory, are desirous of transmitting with his sermons, to posterity, a memorial of the veneration and esteem with which his conduct had inspired them.--After exhorting to contemplate and follow the patriarchs and saints of former ages, who, through faith and patience, inherit the promises, the preacher thus proceeded :

“In this competition for virtuous attainment, it may be often useful to bring down your eye, from contemplating the departed worthies of distant times and countries, towards patterns of imitation that are endeared to you by more tender ties. If, in the relations of life, you have had a connexion,-if, in the circle of your own family, you have had a father, a husband, or a brother, who discharged with exemplary fidelity the duties of his station, whom every tongue blessed as the friend of God and man, and who died as he lived, full of faith and hope, place him before you as the model of your

conductconceive him bending from his seat in the skies, pleased with your attachment, deeply interested in your success, and cheering you in your labours of love. His image will be as a guardian angel to admonish you when dangers approach, to rouse within you every principle of virtuous exertion, and to inspire you with strength to overcome.

“Our hearts, Christians, have been deeply pierced with the loss of a most valuable connexion, of a venerable pastor, who watched long for our souls, and with the most unwearied fidelity pointed out to us the path of happiness. To you, and to the general interests of pure religion, he was attached by many powerful obligations. A native of this city, and descended from a family, which in former times had given several bright ornaments to the church of Scotland, he felt the warmest tendencies of nature co-operating with the principles of duty, to call forth all his powers in the sacred service to which he was devoted. And, by the blessing of God on his industry, he rose to an eminence in professional merit, which has reflected distinguished honour on the city, on the church, and on the country which produced him.

“It was the fortune of Dr. Blair to appear at a period when the literature of his country was just beginning to receive a polish and a useful direction; and when it was emulously cultivated by a bright constellation of young men who are destined to carry it to high perfection. In concert with them, he applied himself with diligence and assiduity to all those branches of study which could contribute to form him for the eloquence of the pulpit. This was the department in which he chose to excel; to which all the force of his genius was directed; and in which he soon felt that his efforts were to be successful. For, from the very commencement of his theological studies, he gave presages of his future attainments; and, in the societies of his youthful companions, laid the foundations of that splendid reputation, which, through a long life of meritorious service, continued to increase; and which has procured for him, as a religious instructor, access to the understandings and the hearts of all the most cultivated inhabitants of the Christian world.

"To you, my brethren, who have long enjoyed the inestimable blessing of his immediate instruction, it will not be necessary to describe the qualities of that luminous, fascinating eloquence with which he was accustomed to warm, and ravish, and amend your hearts. You may have heard others who equalled, or even excelled, him in some of the requisites of pulpit oratory, in occasional profoundness of thought, in vivid flashes of imagination, or in pathetic addresses to the heart. But there never was a public teacher in whom all these requisites were combined in juster proportions, placed under the direction of a more exquisite sense of propriety, and employed with more uniform success to convey useful and practical instruction. Standing

a

on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, he exhibited the doctrines of Christ in their genuine purity, separated from the dross of superstition, and traced with inimitable elegance, through all their beneficial influence on the consolation, on the order, and on the virtue of both public and private life. Hence his discourses, uniting in the most perfect form the attractions of utility and beauty, gave a new and better tone to the style of instruction from the pulpit; and contributed, in a remarkable degree, to correct and refine the religious, the moral, and the literary taste of the times in which he lived.

“The universal admiration which attended his ministerial labours, was some recompense to him for the exertions they had cost. But his chief recompense arose from the consciousness of having contributed so eminently to edify the church of Christ, and from the improving influence which his labours had shed on his own heart. For he was, at home and in himself, the perfect image of that meekness, simplicity, gentleness, and contentment, which his writings recommend. He was long happy in his domestic relations; and though doomed at last to feel, through their loss in succession, the heaviest strokes of affliction, yet his mind, fortified by religious habits, and buoyed up by his native tendency to contentment, sustained itself on God, and enabled him to persevere to the end, in the active and cheerful discharge of the duties of his station; preparing for the world the blessings of elegant instruction ; tendering to the mourner the lessons of divine consolation ; guiding the young by his counsels; aiding the meritorious with his influence, and supporting by his voice and by his conduct the civil and ecclesiastical institutions of his country.

“ With such dispositions and habits, it was natural that he should enjoy a distinguished portion of felicity. And perhaps there never was a man who experienced more completely that the ways of wisdom are ways of pleasantness, and that all her paths are peace. His country was proud of his merits, and at different times conferred on him, through the hands of the sovereign, the most honourable and substantial proofs of her approbation; foreign lands learned from him the way of salvation: he saw marks of deference and respect wherever he appeared : and he felt within himself the gratulations of a good conscience, and the hope of immortality. It was peculiarly delightful to see him in the latest period of his life, at the venerable age of eighty-two, looking back on almost threescore years spent in the public service of his God, pleased with the recollections which it gave, possessing a mind still vigorous and clear, the delight of his friends, sensible to the attentions which they paid to him, burning with zeal for the good of the church, and, with all the ardour of youthful ambition, preparing the materials of a new claim to the gratitude and admiration of posterity. In this active state of reparation, with the lamp of life still clear and bright, he was found by the Great Lord of All, when he came to say, it is enough ;' and, after a single night of pain, to call him gently to his rest.

“ He has gone to give an account of his stewardship. The Church mourns in him the loss of her brightest ornament. Let us submit to the stroke with resignation and reverence; and as the most acceptable proof of respect to his memory, let us learn to practise the lessons which he taught.”

J. FINLAYSON.

EDINBURGH, March 13, 1801.

CONTENTS.

[ocr errors][merged small]

.....

[ocr errors]

SERMON VIII.-On our Ignorance of Good
and Evil in this Life ...

71
Szaxon IX.-On Religious Retirement 79
SERMON X-On Devotion

• 87
Sermon XI.-On the Duties of the Young 98
SERMON XII.-On the Duties and Consola-
tions of the Aged

107
SERMON XIII.-On the Power of Conscience

116
SERMON XIV.-On the Mixture of Joy and
Fear in Religion

126
SERMON XV.-On the Motives to Constancy
in Virtue

133
SERMON XVI.-On the Importance of Order
in Conduct

142

SERMON XVII.-On the Government of the

Heart

150

[blocks in formation]
« PreviousContinue »