Page images

the times in wbich he lived, and to the spirit of his literary contemporaries, is now perhaps much more easily accounted for, than supplied by oral testimony, or even accurate vouchers. Time, whose scythe is incessantly employed in thinning the ranks of the living, cuts off in a few years many of those friends who were the only depositories of private anecdote, from whence alone the faithful biographer can draw his best materials for a finished portrait of real character.

The author of Sermons to Asses was not a little remarkable for possessing two opposite qualities, seldom found united in the same character. From a cheerful temperament of miud, he was on most topics facetious and playful; but in defending the rights of civil and religious liberty, either in private conversation, or from the pulpit, he was grave and stern as Diógenes himself. It was one of his maxims, " that no man could be a real Christian, who was not a warm and zealous friend to civil and religious liberty." With those, therefore, who thought a Christian pulpit profaned by any allusion to the abuses of government, and the rights of a free people, he differed much: but with those of the clergy, who, from views of interest or ambition, made their pulpits subservient to the cause of arbitrary power, he differed more. The former, he had the charity to think, might be well-meaning, though weak; but the latter he denounced as the very worst of all hypocritical knaves. He never failed to iaculcate, as sound doctrine, that “the gospel was the best charter of rights and liberties; and its vigilant defence against all encroachments from treachery or power, one of the first duties of a Christian.” He was indeed a man, who would enter into no sort of compromise with any one on political truths ;--he would not allow of any distinction between lukewarm friends and avowed enemies ;-and he made no scruple of employing either reason or ridicule against both, as best suited his purpose ; being of opinion, that all weapons were lawful, when wielded in the cause of truth. If, in this kind of temper, something of human frailty appears, it may with strict truth be said of him, what Goldsmith says of his village preacher, that

“ E'en his failings lean'd to virtue's side."

His opinions, however, though they bore ample tegtimony to the purity of his zeal, to the independence of his mind, and to the honest frankness of his character, were far from being of that pliant and accommodating kind, which is calculated to flatter the prejudices of the weak, to still the animosities of party spirit, or to command general esteem. Some few, perhaps, were of opinion, that his views of religion were at once new and liberal; and many more, no doubt, thought his politics sound and salutary: but his benevolent amalmagation of both was little relished beyond the pale of his own congregation. His labours, both from the pulpit and the press, struck alike at antiquated errors, and modern innovations on popular rights; both of which Corruption, in church and state, even in his day, though but then comparatively of infant growth, had enlisted in their defence, together with almost all the talent, servility, and selfishness, in the country. Hence, on the death of this celebrated patriot and Christian pastor, who had been, for these reasons, much more feared than esteemed in life, all parties, by a kind of tacit consent, seem to bave agreed to suffer his memory to slide silently into oblivion. But his works will form a lasting monument, which will recall his memory to future ages, , when his pigmy opponents will be no more reinembered than the fluttering insects of an hour.

Very little is known of his early life, more than that he was a native of the south-west Scottish borders, and born some time about the year 1720. He was descended from a reputable and religious family, some members of which suffered much from the ruthless persecutions carried on against the old Scottish Covenanters in the reigns of that unfeeling and licentious prince, Charles the Second, and his more bigoted and - barbarous brother. The bare recital of the tortures inflicted, and the cruelties perpetrated on these defenceless and unhappy people, for no other crime than an attachment to the faith of their fathers, would, even now, at this distance of time, make a savage shudder. This dreadful attempt of an inhuman government, to force, by fire, sword, and slaughter, an episcopal -church-establishment on Scotland, though eventually unsuccessful, was followed by consequences that the friend of both countries, and of mankind, will ever have cause to lament. Among other results it produced was a rooted hatred, kindled in the public mind, of that country, against the very name of Bishop, and every thing connected with episcopal worship.

Of this spirit, the natural offspring of tyrannical oppression, Mr. MURRAY, while yet young, had imbibed a large portion; and which, instead. of being extinguished by time, it is pretty evident from his writings, 'rather grew with his growth, and strength

[ocr errors][ocr errors]

ened with his years. It was probably this feeling, combined with a 'sagacity that no attempt to disguise error, or veil hypocrisy, could deceive, that made him, through life, consider the profession of a priest, in our church-establishment, as a common trade, followed merely for gain ;, and the rich livings of its dignitaries, as nothing less than'a breach of the laws of God, and a direct robbery of the poor. Hence, when he had attained to advanced life, he used to say, that the Kirk of Scotland, as a national establishment, being an hundred times cheaper, might, on that account alone, be fairly presumed to be an hundred times more honest, than the Church of England. Besides the costly establishments of our Church, he very much disapproved of the distribution of its wealth ; and never could be brought to relish that sort of hierarchy, that allowed a Right Reverend fat Father in God to live in splendid idleness, pampered with luxuries, and clad in scarlet and fine linen, while the meagre, laborious, and thread-bare curate, could scarcely procure more delicious fare than humble bread and cheese, and who sometimes was even obliged to play the fiddle, for the amusement of travellers at an inn, to eke out his scanty income, and enable him to find decent rags to clothe his children. It was this unseemly contrast of clerical rank and fortune, that increased his disgust to an establishment that he thought had little else to recommend its character. On the costume and external pomp of the higher orders of English clergy, he was, in private conversation, far from being sparing of his censure. In a lively mood, he would wind up bis strictures on these dignitaries by saying, “ that they bore as little resemblance to the simple founders of the

Christian system, as mountebanks at a country fair to a grave synod of presbyterian elders.”

Of the events that marked his progress from youth to manhood, we know little but from the tales of tradition, which speak of him as a prodigy of wit and humour, and as a scholar of great promise. He was destined to fill a place in the presbyterian ministry of the Kirk of Scotland, for which he soon gave abundant, proofs of competent ability. In England, the presbyterian dissenters exercise an uncontrolled right in choosing their own pastors, the latter of whom, when they receive a congregational call, have to undergo the forms of ordination before a presbytery of the Kirk of Scotland. Mr. Murray received such a call from a congregation at Newcastle, a little before the commencement of the American war.

It was now that he was placed on a stage where he was soon called to mingle in political warfare, as well as theological controversy, and where he had ample room for the full display of his various and vigorous powers of mind. The Reverend John Wesley, who,

, from his vast influence over almost the whole of the labouring population of that day in the north of England, was commonly called the “ Protestant Pope,. had the hardihood to publish a high-flying Tory pamphlet, to prove Taxation no Tyranny. In that publication, the doctrines of the fawning Filmer were revived, and passive obedience and non-resistance to the powers that be, were contended for, as being paramount Christian duties. This unblusbing perversion of talent, and of truth, ushered into the world by a man of great authority with the multitude, and from whom better things might have been expected, determined Mr.

« PreviousContinue »