« PreviousContinue »
notorious fact, that there are many in the church, who know but little of the Greek Testament, and still more, who know nothing of the Hebrew Bible at all. Why is this permitted? Why, in particular, is it not insisted on, in the episcopal church of England, as in the established and dissenting churches of Scotland, that candidates for the ministry should study Hebrew as well as Greek, and that, before attempting to explain the scriptures to others, they should themselves be able to understand both the Old and New Testament in the language, in which these divine records were originally communicated to the world ? And why is it, we may further ask, that such numbers, who, either from necessity, or from choice, attended to these studies in their youth, have yet so neglected them in their riper years, as to be reduced to the degrading necessity of begging from translators to do for them what they might so honourably, and perhaps to much better purpose, have done for themselves ? It may sometimes be unsafe, while it can never be wise, and must always be mortifying to be obliged to receive at the second hand, what might have been obtained at the first.
Mr. Toplady, determining to judge for himself, in matters of eternal importance, soon recognized the necessity of making himself intimately acquainted with the original scriptures. But anxious to know the opinions of others also, he read extensively in the Greek and Latin fathers; and as the slightest inspection of his works will show, he ultimately acquired a particular knowledge of the most learned productions on theology, both of ancient and modern times.
It was while laying up such stores for future use, during his academical course in Ireland, that it pleased God, in a very singular way, to reveal his Son in him,--and thus to do for him, what neither classical, nor even theological learning can alone
effect,—" to make him wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.”
About the age of sixteen, he, one evening, apparently by accident, but really under the unseen direction of a wise and gracious providence, strolled into a barn, at a place called Codymain in Ireland, where a layman, of the name of Morris, was preaching to a few poor people. The text on which the preacher discoursed was Ephes. ii. 13. “But now in Christ Jesus, ye, who sometimes were far off, are made nigh by the blood of Christ.” It was from the night, on which he heard a plain, but what was, in his experience, a powerful sermon, delivered from this text, by an illiterate clown, that our highly accomplished student dated his effectual conversion to the faith of the gospel ! But it was of “ the Lord of hosts, who is excellent in counsel, and wonderful in working.”
It was not only at the time, but long after, that Mr. Toplady himself viewed the matter in this light. Thus we find the following striking reference to it in his Diary, dated Feb. 29. 1768. “At night, after my return from Exeter my desires were strongly drawn up to God. I could, indeed, say that I groaned with groans of love, joy, and peace ; but it was even with comfortable groans that cannot be uttered. That sweet text, Ephes. ii. 13. 'Ye, who were sometimes afar off, are made nigh by the blood of Christ,' was particularly delightful and refreshing to my soul; and the more so, as it reminded me of the days and months that are past, even the day of my sensible espousals to the bridegroom of the elect. It was from that passage that Mr. Morris preached on the memorable evening of my effectual call, by the grace of God. Under the ministry of that dear messenger, and by that sermon, I was, I trust, brought nigh by the blood of Christ, in Aug. 1756.
Strange that I, who had so long sat under the means of grace in England, should be brought nigh
to God in an obscure part of Ireland, amidst a hand. ful of God's people, met together in a barn, and under the ministry of one, who could hardly spell his name! Surely it was the Lord's doing, and is marvellous ! The excellency of such power must be of God, and cannot be of man. The regenerating Spirit breathes not only on whom, but likewise when, where, and as he listeth.”
This very remarkable fact in the history of our author, will be differently viewed by different readers, in proportion to the discrepancy betwixt their respective theological creeds. In some, the relation will only excite a smile or a sneer. Others, with whom it is equally vain to argue the point, will account for it, by merely alleging, as not at all wonderful, that the ardent mind of the youth was merely inoculated with the preacher's enthusiasm, which it had been previously so well prepared to receive. Some, again, will take occasion from it, to reprobate all sudden conversions; as if He who spoke, and the structure of the universe arose, could not, but by a slow and systematic process, such as would meet their views, turn sinners “ from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God.” That Mr. Toplady was the subject of a saving change of heart, was a fact, verified by the whole tenor of his subsequent conduct. And that this change was produced at the time, and by the means, above stated, rests on his own testimony, to which neither reason nor revelation can entitle any to offer a contradiction.
If, indeed, there be any thing staggering in the narrative, it is, that the conversion of an enlightened youth, should have been effected by the instrumentality of a self-constituted, and very ignorant Instructor, of whom there was reason to doubt whether be was even a good man But the grand Agent in conversion has different ways of showing, that the
* See Mr. Toplady's Diary; p. 26.
work is all his own, and that to Him must be ascribed all the glory. Even in a sense which bears on the subject before us, “ God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise, and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; and base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea and things that are not, to bring to nought things that are; that no flesh should glory in his presence t."
It would be no less unwarrantable on the other hand, from the success of Morris, in this instance, or anyirothers, to conclude, that lay-preaching, or any preaching, by ignorant and illiterate men, is at all to be approved, or in any way encouraged. Paul rejoiced that Christ was preached by some, though out of envy, strife, and contention. But while he rejoiced in their success, he must have condemned their spirit, and certainly could not have encouraged others to follow their example. Even great success, in preaching, will not, of itself, be a sufficient proof either of the preacher's piety, or of his call to the ministry of the gospel. The Author of the gospel himself speaks decisively on that point, in the following striking declaration : “ Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name bave cast out devils ? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you ; depart from me, ye that work iniquity .
Every man, who thinks at all, will often find his mind perplexed with doubts and difficulties respecting theological subjects of primary importance. It was so with Mr. Toplady. For a considerable time, at least, he was not a little embarrassed in his attempts to balance the evidence of the Calvinistic and Arminian creeds. With great avidity, and with no less
+ 1 Cor. i. 27-29.
† Mat. vii. 22, 23.
candour, he read a vast variety of books on each side. Still, however, his perplexity remained, till at length, he providentially met with Dr. Manton's Discourses on the xviith of John; which were happily instrumental in rectifying his views, and in inspiring him with that mortal hatred of the Arminian heresy, for which he afterwards rendered himself so famous. It was in the year 1758 that he was thus freed from what he considered as a dangerous delusion, and obtained a clear and settled conviction of the truth and importance of the doctrines of grace. He never forgot this; and he was wont frequently to say to his friends “ that he should, when in heaven, remember the year 1758 with gratitude and joy.
It was not till about four years, after this memorable period, that he ventured to declare himself a candidate for holy orders. Having, however, during the interval, continued to prosecute his studies with unabated ardour*, he was at the end of it, by well directed diligence, and by frequent and earnest prayer, in no common degree, prepared for entering on the work of the Christian ministry. And he was accordingly ordained Deacon, on Trinity Sunday, the 6th of June, 1762.
This was, by no means, regarded by him, as a matter of course, or as a mere ceremony to be gone through, in order to the attainment of a particular end. He had well weighed the importance of the work to which he was thus to be solemnly appointed : Nor did he propose to undertake it, till he could, in the designed and legitimate meaning of the words, sincerely declare, that “ he was moved to it by the Holy Ghost.” He has asserted himself, what none who knew his character for integrity could doubt,
* It was during this interval that he wrote his translation of ZANChius on PREDESTINATION—“ It was quite a juvenile performance,” he says, “ accomplished about a year and a half before I entered into orders, by way of filling up a few supernumerary hours.”