Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB
[graphic][merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]

THE

EVANGELICAL MAGAZINE,

AND

MISSIONARY CHRONICLE.

FOR FEBRUARY, 1854.

SKETCH OF THE LIFE AND CHARACTER OF RALPH
WARDLAW, D.D.

THE great English dramatist has said that "some men have greatness thrust upon them." Circumstances herald their way. Family connexions, social position, the opinions they advocate, and the times on which they have fallen, all contribute to form a pedestal or platform on which they are at once elevated, and to invest their name with an influence which otherwise they never could have commanded. They do not bend or control the agencies that are at work around them, or stem the tide of events that sweeps the age in which they live. They are, however prominent, the mere creatures of circumstances. They derive their mental complexion from the class or party with which they identify themselves, and are passive amid the influences that constitute the spirit of their times. Their teaching is but the echo of public opinion, and their power or popularity is to be traced, not to the energy of mind that contends with existing evils, but to the pliancy that flatters prejudices, and advocates consecrated traditions. They originate nothing; they effect no reformation; they do not lift opinions that were unknown or despised into public favour, nor do they gather up the scattered fragments of neglected truth, and bind them into a consistent

VOL. XXXII.

whole. They at best but give an augmented impulse to meliorating agencies already at work, and swell the triumph of principles which others have propounded. And hence, with whatever amount of greatness they seem to be invested, they leave no indelible footprints on the sands of time. A few short years cover their name with oblivion; and in after ages they will be found only among the mighty multitude of the forgotten.

But there are some men, according to the same great authority, who "achieve greatness." They owe nothing to conventionality, or the times on which they are cast. Circumstances, instead of marshalling their way, are thrust aside as obstacles, or compelled to minister to their triumph. The opinions they advocate were unknown or despised when embraced by them. Of the people, there are few or none to aid them, and yet they achieve success. Opponents are converted into adherents, and schemes of polity, civil and ecclesiastical, frowned upon as Utopian or fanatical, gather around them, under their advocacy, the homage of the enlightened and the good. Their name becomes associated with great changes, and the stamp of their power is im pressed on the spirit of their age. And

F

n

hence, as long as the progress of truth | Church-now denominated the United is recorded, and as long as the annals Presbyterian Church-he proceeded to of the time in which they lived form a the study of theology under Dr. Lawpart of history, their memory must be son, with a view to the ministry among held in grateful and admiring remem- that body. But when about to enter brance. on the ministerial office in connexion with that large and influential section of the Church, his views of ecclesiastical polity underwent a change, and he avowed himself a Congregational Dissenter.

To this class of men Dr. Wardlaw evidently belonged. Neither favoured by circumstances, nor associated with an ecclesiastical body, whose antiquity and social position would have lent weight to his opinions, he nevertheless achieved for himself a name and a position second to none of his contemporaries, and threw around the principles he had embraced a lustre which only originality and genius, combined with unblemished purity of life, could impart. Surrounded at the outset of his career with the disadvantages and hinderances attendant on identification with a denomination then spoken against" throughout Scotland, he rapidly arose in public esteem; opposition and prejudice melted away before his high character as a Christian, and his eloquence as a preacher, until at length his reputation became more than European, and his name was pronounced as the most illustrious among his fellow citizens.

66

Dr. Wardlaw was born on the 22nd of December, 1779, in the town of Dalkeith. His residence there, however, was brief, for at the age of six months he was removed to Glasgow. His father was a merchant of high respectability in that city, where, for several years, he efficiently, and with satisfaction to his fellow-citizens, discharged the duties of the magistracy, commending himself to all by his integrity and Christian stedfastness. By his mother he was descended from Ebenezer Erskine, one of the most illustrious names in Scottish ecclesiastical history.

The classical and other literary studies of Dr. Wardlaw were prosecuted under able masters in the Grammar School of Glasgow, and in the University of that city. Having finished his academical course, and being at that time connected with the Secession

Whilst Dr. Wardlaw was engaged with his theological studies, and was contemplating the exercise of his ministry in the church which recognises his great ancestor, Erskine, as one of its founders, Scotland was deeply agitated throughout its length and breadth, on questions of ecclesiastical polity, by the secession of Ewing and Innes from the National Church. These able and devoted men, having adopted Congregational views of church polity, relinquished their livings and status as clergymen, and went forth on a free mission to the people of Scotland. They preached throughout the country, and gathered thousands around them, many of whom embraced their views, and united with them in efforts to arouse and save their slumbering fellowcountrymen. This gave birth to a hot conflict of opinion-the views and practices of the seceding clergymen and their followers being arraigned and condemned by the great body of Presbyterians. Much good, however, was effected; many were led to true repentance and devotedness to God; and not a few able and zealous men united themselves to the infant church, among whom was Wardlaw, who was destined to be its leader and chief ornament for a long series of years. He attached himself to the Congregational Church formed in Glasgow, over which the Rev. Greville Ewing presided. Shortly after a chapel was built for him in that city, in which he received ordination, and commenced his ministry on the 16th of February, 1803. In this place of worship he continued to labour with growing acceptance,

was not still more magnificent. But amid the light that then shone around him, and the eulogies that fell on his ear, he was not far distant from the splendours and the gratulations of a still nobler triumph. He then stood on the threshold of heaven, where he has now entered, welcomed by the "general assembly and church of the firstborn;" hailed by his Lord, and invested with imperishable honours. He survived the jubilee celebration but ten short months. On the 17th of December, 1853, he finished his earthly career, at the age of 74, more richly laden with the fruits of abundant and successful labours than with years. His fall was not untimely: no promise has been unfulfilled; no expectations have been frustrated. His light shone on till it reached the perfect day, and closed amid the magnificence of an Alpine sunset. And in his death he was as much honoured as in his life. He was borne to his tomb amid thousands of his fellow-citizens, of all ranks and denominations, who assembled to pay the last tribute of homage to one whom they admired, not less for his virtues and the sanctity of his life, than for his gifts and accomplishments. His ashes rest in the Necropolis, among those of many of the honoured dead, and doubtless not a few of the present and of future generations will visit the hallowed ground that contains them, to express their admiring reverence for his name.

till 1819, when the splendid and capacious chapel, in West George Street, was erected at a cost exceeding £10,000. There his eloquence and faithfulness as a preacher gathered one of the largest and most influential congregations in the city of Glasgow, to which he ministered down to the close of his life, with a popularity and a power which have few parallels.

Soon after his ordination in 1803, he was united in marriage to his own cousin, Miss Jane Smith, by whom he had a numerous family. In 1811 he was associated as fellow-professor with Mr. Ewing, in the Theological Seminary then instituted for the training of young men for the ministry, among Congregational Dissenters in Scotland. And so disinterested and superior to all mercenary motives was he as a professor and a pastor, that for more than a quarter of a century he continued to discharge the duties of the Theological Chair without fee or reward; and steadfastly resisted all attempts to remove him from his flock in West George Street, although tempted by far ampler emoluments than he received from them. Such proofs of generous devotedness to the field where he commenced his honourable and triumphant career, invested him with an element of moral grandeur in the estimation of his flock and fellow-citizens; and, at length, led to the splendid tribute paid to his character as a Christian, and his eloquence, learning, and success as a minister, in the magnificent and memorable jubilee services of 1853. All denominations, England and Scotland, united on that occasion in swelling the congratulations and homage paid to this distinguished man: and so merited was the tribute then paid to him, and with such meekness and dignity did he bear his honours, that the city of Glasgow welcomed the celebration as the triumph of one of her most illustrious sons; and if any feeling of regret was experienced by the jubilant assembly, it was that the wreath, which girt his venerable brow,

In attempting to form an estimate of the character of Dr. Wardlaw, the attention is called to a rare and beautiful combination of gifts, virtues, and accomplishments. In whatever light he is viewed,-in public or private, as a man of great mental power, as a scholar, as a preacher, as an author, he appears possessed of a richness, a variety, and an exquisite symmetry of qualifications rarely to be met with. There is no combination of splendour and meanness of strength and weakness-of ministerial sanctity and private short-comings: he is a harmonious whole. There are no brilliant lights and deep

shadows. The lustre that surrounds him does not flash and fade like that of a meteor, but shines with uninterrupted steadiness, like that of a fixed star. Some, perhaps many, might be found in whom a single quality or gift shone with intenser brightness; but none, as far as we can recollect, in whom the blended radiance of all was so full and steady.

If he is viewed intellectually, he is found to have been possessed of a robust and healthy completeness which inspired not less with confidence than admiration. Following his steps, the ground is felt to be solid, as well as picturesque and beautiful. His mind was so constituted as to give birth to the sound and the brilliant, the vigorous and the graceful. Every faculty occupied and swayed its own field, neither overshadowing nor being overshadowed by any other. There was no extravagance of fancy or imagination involving an infringement of the dictates of judgment; nor was there any cold and heartless process of logic which chilled and repulsed the affections. When the mind of Dr. Wardlaw acted, its operations were the result of all his powers moving in perfect unison. The decisions of the judgment sanctioned and sustained the embellishments of the fancy, and derived force and persuasiveness from the glow of the affections. The memory, as a ready handmaid, adduced the treasures of knowledge committed to its keeping, and the reasoning faculty arranged facts and principles into a solid and harmonious structure, around which the imagination threw a variety of chaste and beautiful ornaments, whilst the natural, though subdued, play of the feelings, animated the whole with the glow of life.

In the field of reasoning or argument Dr. Wardlaw has rarely been equalled. His mind grasped at once the entire bearings of a subject. His penetration was keen and rapid. Flaws, or weak nesses, or subterfuges on the part of an antagonist, or weak and sophistical modes of reasoning employed in the

support of error, were instantly detected and exposed. No parade of false logic, or tawdry embellishments of fancy, could screen error from the keenness of his glance and whilst there was no approach to violence, or rude triumph when the weak points of an argument were exposed, or when the ground was cut away from beneath the feet of an antagonist, the process was uniformly so complete that it evinced at once the sharpness of the weapon, and the vigour of the hand which wielded it. And, as is often the case, the great argumentative skill of Dr. Wardlaw was accompanied with wit, and considerable power of sarcasm. Occasionally his wit sparkled like the brilliant scintillations of a diamond; and sometimes his sarcasm was permitted to bite slightly and for a moment, just to attest his loathing and detestation of what is false, dishonourable, or mean. But his natural generosity, heightened by his deep-toned piety into apostolic magnanimity, restrained everything that might mortify an antagonist, or, by possibility, might impair the force and sanctity of truth. His aim, when he entered the arena of conflict, was not self-display, or the mere triumph of intellectual gladiatorship, but the overthrow of error, the vindication of truth, and the glory of God: and, hence, in no instance was he ever found to wield an unlawful weapon, or to resort to any expedient of which candour and the most unsullied honour could be ashamed. It was evidently not the love of strife, or impatience of the serene enjoyments of study and contemplation, that forced him into the thorny field of controversy. He descended there in obedience to the call of truth, and to fulfil the sacred mission on which he was sent. And hence his controversial works are models of felicitous reasoning, bathed in an element of Christian sanctity.

A hasty glance at the general tone and characteristics of Dr. Wardlaw's mind, might perhaps lead to the conclusion that he was defective in imagination and original power; but a more

[ocr errors]
« AnteriorContinuar »