without deeply striking and interesting men; as from the cloudy sky, rain, snow, &c., may descend without exciting ardent attention; it must be large hailstones, the sound of thunder, torrent rain, and the lightning's flash; analogous to these must be the ideas and propositions, which strike men's minds.” Foster's own writings are eminently thus exciting. And it may be said of him, as he remarked of Lord Chatham, speaking of the absence of argumentative reasoning in his speeches; "he struck, as by intuition, directly on the results of reasoning, as a common shot strikes the mark, without your seeing it's course through the air as it moves towards its object.” But Foster thought, and reasoned in thinking, most intensely and laboriously; it was not mere intuition that has filled his pages with such condensed results.

Foster and Hall were both men of great independence of mind; but Hall's independence was not combined with so great a degree of originality, and it received more gently into itself in acquiescence the habitudes of society, and the characteristics of other minds. Foster's independence was that of bare truth; he hated the frippery of circumstance, the throwing of truth upon external support. He would have it go for no more than it was worth. And anything like the imposition of an external ceremonial, he could not endure. He went so far as to wish that everything ceremonial and sacerdotal could be cleared out of our religious economy. He wanted nothing at all to come between the soul of man and free unmingled truth. The hearty conviction of truth, and the pure acting from it, was what he required. He abhorred all manner of intolerance with such vehemence and intensity of hatred, that if he could have had a living Nemesis for the retribution of crimes not punished by human law, it would have been for that. He hated everything that tempted man to dissemble, to seem or assume what he was not. He hated oppression in every form. He hated a state-established hierarchy, as “ infinitely pernicious to Christianity.”

We have in these volumes a record of the life and correspondence of this most original and powerful mind; yet it was a mind in some respects strangely constructed, or rather, we should say, strangely self-disciplined, and in some respects out of order for want of self-discipline. Looking through the whole seventy years and more of Foster's life, and remembering the magnificent intellectual endowments with which it pleased God to create him, and the almost uninterrupted health and comparative leisure enjoyed for nearly fifty years, there will seem to have been by him but little accomplished, there will seem to have been almost a waste of power. We might, in some respects, compare Foster with Coleridge ; in respect of originality and power of intellect, they were very much alike; not so in variety, comprehensiveness and profoundness of erudition ; for while Coleridge's acquisitions were vast and varied, Foster's were much rather limited. But both were blest with transcendent powers of mind and grand opportunities, and yet accomplished comparatively little; and a severe censor might say, are instances of a lamentable disuse of intellect. Taking Coleridge's miserable health into view, and the fact that he was not, like Foster, at an early period brought under the impulse of true religion, we ought perhaps to say, that of the two, Coleridge accomplished the most. But taking the character of Foster's efforts into consideration, their more immediate hearing on men's highest interests must incline us to put the adjudged superiority of amount to his score.

The development of character and opinion in these volumes is intensely interesting and instructive; so is the display and obseryance of influences and causes forming and directing opinion ; so, likewise is the struggle between conscience and habit, between grandeur of impulse and judgment, conflicting with native and habitual indolence and procrastination. There was, in the first place, a strong, peculiar, obstinate, iron mould, which might have made the man, under certain circumstances, as hinted in one of Foster's own Essays, a Minos or a Draco; but which, had it been filled with apostolic zeal in the love of Christ and of souls, would have made almost another apostle. There were tendencies to deep and solemn thought, and to great wrestlings of the intellect and spirit, which, brought under the full influence of the “powers of the world to come,

” and developed in the intense benevolence of a soul by faith freed from condemnation, and habitually communing with God in Christ, would have given as great a spiritual mastery over this world as any human being could well be conceived to exercise. But for this purpose there must have been a holy and deep baptism in the Word of God, an unassailable faith in, and most humble acquiescence with, and submission to, its dictates; a familiarity with it as the daily food of the soul, and an experience of it, as of a fire in one's bones, admitting no human speculation to put it out; no theory of mere human opinion, or feelings, or imagination, to veil, or darken, or make doubtful, its realities.

Now the want of this kind of familiarity with the Scriptures, this profound study and experience of them; this unhesitating, reception of them as the infallible Word of God; may have been the secret of some of Foster's greatest difficulties. There was nothing but this fixedness in God's Word, that could be the helm of a mind of such unusual power and original tendencies. Foster wanted an all-controlling faith; he wanted submission to the Word of God as the decisive, supreme, last appeal. Foster's character was somewhat like that of Thomas among the Apostles; gloomy tendencies in it, inveterate convolutions of opinion, seclusion in its own depths, and sometimes only faith enough just to save him from despair.

He had a strong self-condemning conscience, a clear, massive view and powerful conception of human depravity, but not an early and accurate view, or powerful sense, of the infinite odiousness of sin, as manifested by the divine law, the divine holiness, and the divine atonement. He had an instinctive, vigorous appreciation of the ignorance, crime, and evil in human society, a sense of its misery, and a disposition to dwell upon its gloomy shades, which made him, as an observer, what Caravaggio or Espagnoletto were as painters; tremendously dark and impressive in his delineations. But it was quite as much the instinct and taste of the painter, as it was the light of the Word of God, revealing the depths of Satan. It was the native intensity of observation, combined with a saturnine turn of mind, and intermingled with revelations of things as they are, beneath the light of the Divine Attributes.

Mr. Foster came early under the power of religious conviction, but evidently not in the happiest manner, and not so as to bring him at once thoroughly, heartily, confidingly, to Christ. Perhaps there may be traced much of what is called legal (at least for a long time), mingled with his acceptance of Christ as the only refuge of his soul, or as he would sometimes have denominated it, with his views of the economy of human redemption. There was more of the general reliance of the mind upon that as an economy, than of the personal reliance of the soul upon Christ as a Saviour. One cannot but be impressed with the fact of the great absence, throughout the whole tenor of his letters, his conversations, and the mould of his life and character till a late period,—the great absence and want of habitual, and even occasional reference to the love of Christ, the claims of the cross, the authority of the Word of God, and all that is peculiar to the gospel. Perhaps there may have been an intentional exclusion of these topics, as trite and technical, induced by an extreme of the same feelings with which he wrote so severely concerning the customary diction of evangelical piety, and which passed unawares into a fastidiousness, and almost aversion in his own mind, which became habitual. His letters to Miss Saunders at the close of these volumes, show how entirely he threw off any such embarrassment, when roused to the work of presenting eternal realities to an immortal spirit on the threshold of eternity. But from an early period, his disgust at the peculiar diction of the Gospel, as used by men who seemed to have lost all perception of the sublime ideas intended to be conveyed by it, may have operated insensibly in the way of a prejudice against some of those ideas themselves.

He had indeed a sense of guilt, which became, at a later period, absorbing and powerful; and a sense of the atonement, which grew deeper and deeper to the last, with a most entire reliance upon it; but mingled with this, and influencing his whole habit of thought and feeling, and even of belief, far more than he would himself have



been willing to acknowledge, there seems at one time to have been a secret unconscious reliance on the hope that the Supreme Judge would not be so rigidly severe in the scrutiny of mortals, as the terms of the Gospel and the Law imply; so that, instead of relying solely on the merits of Christ, as a sinner utterly and for ever lost without him, he appeared to rely on the mercy of God as a lenient, compassionate Judge, in whose sight an amiable and good life might also come between the sinner and the fear of an inexorable judgment. We think this feeling is plainly to be detected in what Foster says of the grounds of his hope in the case of his own

And though in his own case he was always gloomily and severely self-accusing, yet it seemed much like the same experience in the case of Dr. Johnson, whom Foster not a little resembled in some characteristics; and as in the case of Dr. ,Johnson, Foster's own personal view of Christ, and reliance upon him, and sense of deliverance from condemnation, were always greatly dimmed and diminished by the ever recurring habit of looking for something in himself, and in his preparation to meet God, as a ground of confidence. A more defective religious experience, for a season, in so eminent a Christian Minister, we think is rarely to be found on record. Indeed, compared with men like Newton, Scott, Ryland, Hill, with Mr. Hall, and some others, either but little preceding or quite contemporary with Foster, he appears sometimes almost like a strong-minded, intellectual, but half-enlightened Pagan, in the comparison.

This defective early experience, and Foster's strong antipathy to the technicals of evangelical piety, especially if approximating in his view in any manner to cant, together with his want of continued, thorough, systematic or scriptural study of theology, acted and reacted on each other. And at one time he was so disastrously under the power of a tendency to rationalism, and to a choice of what to believe irrespective of the Scriptures, that he seems to have come very near to the slough of the Socinian system. He had a strong corrective in the piety and influence of his friend, the Rev. MrHughes, to whose correspondence and conversation he evidently owed much. But he had great repugnance to anything like a “party of systematics,” and he carried his natural independence and hatred of restraint to such a degree, that he would even have dissolved the very institution of churches, with every ordinance in them, and have had nothing on earth but publie worship and the Lord's Supper. This peculiarity was akin to his own personal reception of Christianity as a general economy, unaccompanied by a sufficiently close and scriptural study of its elements with a sufficiently entire and sole reliance upon Christ.

But we find ourselves, in our survey of the characteristics of a great and powerful mind, glancing at defective points first, which ought not to be; and we must not proceed, without the outlines


of the life and opinions of this remarkable man as presented in his letters and biography. In life and character he was most lovely, and original in his simplicity and loveliness; and this, with his grand superiority of thought and style to almost the whole range of modern English literature, makes his whole genius and moral excellence so striking, that it seems an ungrateful task to dwell even upon speculative defects. In this mine of precious metal, the discovery of a vein of very different and contradictory material compels us to a close examination of it, and of the hidden causes that might have produced it. Many are the laborers that have been working in this mine, and bringing out whole ingots of gold for the manufacture of their own pots, and cups, and vessels, who never dreamed, till recently, that there was anything but gold in its deep, curious, far-reaching seams of treasure. We shall find that “an enemy hath done this," and that it is one of the most memorable examples of his infernal and partially successful enginery.

Mr. Foster was born in 1770. His father was a substantial farmer and weaver, a strong-minded man and Christian. From early childhood John Foster was reserved and thoughtful, constitutionally pensive, full of emotion and sentiment, but of “ an infinite shyness" in the revelation of his feelings. As early as the age of twelve years he expresses himself as having had “ a painful sense of an awkward but entire individuality.' He possessed by nature an intensely vivid power of association, combined with great strength and vividness of imagination. He was endowed with an exquisite sensibility to the loveliness and meaning of the world of external scenery. "There was indeed in him such a remarkable combination of all the requisites for a great poet, that it seems almost strange that the qualities of his being had not run in that mould. He would have made the most thoughtful poet that ever lived.

No man that has ever read it can have forgotten the exquisitely beautiful passage on the influence of nature over the sensibility and imagination in the Essay on a man's writing Memoirs of himself. There are similar passages in Mr. Foster's Review of the Philosophy of Nature. His own mind was developed under the power of deep impulses from the richness, grandeur and beauty of the creation, and there was within him an internal economy of ideas and sentiments, of a character and a color correspondent to the beauty, vicissitude and grandeur, which continually press upon the senses.' “Sweet Nature !” exclaims he in one of his letters, “I have conversed with her with inexpressible luxury ; I have almost worshipped her. A flower, a tree, a bird, a fly, has been enough to kindle a delightful train of ideas and emotions, and sometimes to elevate the mind to sublime conceptions. When the Autumn stole on, I observed it with the most vigilant attention, and felt a pensive regret to see those forms of beauty, which tell that all the

« VorigeDoorgaan »