« PreviousContinue »
irreligious efforts sometimes made by religious men to overrule the obvious leaning of their sons, we are at the same time concerned that religious service should be regarded apart from the conventionalities of any class or time. The question to be determined in any particular case, is one of comparison. It is not whether religious interests shall be subserved or not, but whether they may be best promoted by the one or the other of two occupations; whether most good, religious good, will be effected by a professional adoption of its engagements, or by a personal consecration in connexion with a secular position. This is by no means a simple case. Its solution frequently proves difficult, and calls for much fidelity and matured experience. Each case must be decided by itself; and we point triumphantly to the subject of the memoir before us in proof that, in some instances, at least, the latter alternative should be chosen. Religious service is much larger than the ministry. It may be pursued in every walk of life, at all times, and in every place. It need not be intrusive or talkative; but wherever its professors are-on land or sea, at home or abroad, in the senate or in the study, on the exchange or in the market-place-it may be rendered as a grateful offering acceptable to God, and eminently conducive to human good. This is one of the lessons taught by the Memoir of Mr. Wilson, and there are others for which, a more appropriate place will be found in the course of the remarks we have to offer on some parts of his biography.
Mr. Wilson was born on the 11th of November, 1764, in the City of London, and was sent at an early age to a boarding school at Newington Green. 'He was a quiet, sober, and thoughtful boy; not addicted to youthful sports, but fond of retirement, and more disposed to read than to play.' His education was strictly commercial, and his biographer strongly inclines to the opinion that, he was benefitted rather than otherwise by the ignorance in which he was kept of classical learning. From this opinion we dissent, and think there would not be much difficulty in shewing that the view taken is one-sided and superficial. Indeed, it is clear to us that Mr. Wilson suffered materially through life from the defective character of his early training. A more enlarged course of education would have liberalized his mind, and, without impairing his many excellencies, have fitted him for a yet wider sphere of usefulness. Considering what his early advantages were, it is marvellous that he compassed so much. What he might have been, and done, had they been greater, it is not easy to say; but it is quite clear to us, that he would, in such case, have been much better qualified for the station he filled, and have been enabled to extend his influence far beyond the limits by which it was
actually bound. 'I do not recollect,' says his son, 'ever asking him whether he received any instruction in the Latin and Greek languages; but of the former his knowledge was extremely limited. The only portion of Latin I ever heard him repeat was the invocation of the Lord's Prayer,- Pater noster qui es in cœlo.' Of Greek, I believe he was entirely ignorant; and I cannot suppose that he had ever learned even the alphabet of that noble language.'
His father's household was distinguished by its religious complexion, and it is probable that the character of the son was mainly determined by this fact. He was not, we are informed, accustomed to speak much of his early religious history; but in 1808, when referring to it, he says, I have great reason to be thankful for kind and pious parents, and especially for a gradual love which I have felt for divine things. Engaged in the active pursuits of life, his father appears to have had little sympathy-save in the matter of religion-with affairs beyond his immediate vocation. He was a Nonconformist of the good old Puritan school; strictly conscientious, and constantly striving to walk in all the ordinances and commandments of the Lord blameless; retaining all the close habitual regard to the will of God for which those excellent men were distinguished, without any of the demure austerity and rigid stiffness and scrupulosity which are commonly, although with questionable truth, ascribed to them.'
At the early age of fourteen, Thomas Wilson was apprenticed to his father; soon after which, at the suggestion of an intimate and intelligent friend, Mr. Noble, a General Baptist minister, was engaged to attend twice a week, in order to afford him instruction in history, geography, and other branches of useful knowledge. Immediately on the termination of his apprenticeship he was taken into partnership by his father, and became what is technically styled 'a silkman.' Though his habits at this period were those of a decidedly religious man, he did not formally connect himself with any of the churches of the Congregational or Independent body. The reason of this is not positively known, but the following is given as a probable solution
A considerable portion of his apprenticeship had been spent in Coventry, where a branch of the business was carried on. While at that place he attended at the chapel in West Orchard, of which my grandfather had been one of the founders. The late Mr. Matthew Wilks had, previously to May 1733, frequently visited Coventry and supplied that congregation, by whom he was invited to become their minister. My father frequently heard him there, and admired his evangelical strain of preaching, and his striking, powerful, and
impressive mode of address. This would naturally lead him afterwards to hear that eminent man when he regularly officiated at the Tabernacle in London. The minister chosen at Haberdashers' Hall to succeed Dr. Gibbons, who died in the year 1785, was not a popular or attractive preacher, so that there was no powerful inducement for him regularly to frequent that place; and having been accustomed to attend at the Tabernacle on the Lord's-day evenings, and also some of the week-evening services, he had heard all the preachers who supplied there, and preferred their warm, lively, affectionate manner, to the more correct, perhaps, but colder and less earnest style of the regular London pastors. He had also formed. acquaintance and contracted friendship with some of the ministers who were annual supplies at the Tabernacle, and under these circumstances it was natural that he should feel a superior attraction to that place, and become a regular attendant there He joined in communion with the Tabernacle society, I believe, shortly after his apprenticeship expired, but in what year I have not been able to ascertain.'-pp. 63, 64.
His habits through life were of an active rather than of a sedentary character. He was more of an observer than a reader-a noter of what appeared on the surface of society, not a meditative recluse, who sought communion with forms of truth impalpable to the grosser apprehensions of the multitude. Whatever addition may have been made by Mr. Noble to his pupil's stock of knowledge, it does not appear that any mental habits were formed which prompted to the subsequent prosecution of literature.
'I do not find any indications that my father, after the expiration of his apprenticeship, devoted much time to mental cultivation. Probably his attention-like that of many young men engaged in business-was too fully occupied by its concerns to allow of his being either a general reader or a close student; and there were not, at that time, those facilities and inducements which now abound on every band to intellectual improvement. It is much to be lamented, that the most valuable years in the life of a young person should be suffered to pass away, without his attaining an increased degree of mental developement, as well as large additions to his previously acquired stock of general knowledge and useful information Young men engaged in business should be urged, by a strong sense of duty, to redeem a portion of time for mental improvement, and to devote at least some of the precious morning hours of every day to reading and study, as well as to devotional exercises.'—p. 93.
For some years, Mr. Wilson was in the habit of hearing a great variety of ministers-partly from his attendance at the Tabernacle, and partly perhaps from the habit induced by the plan on which that celebrated place of worship was then
plied. Amongst these, the most grateful recollection was cherished of the Rev. Andrew Fuller, to whom,' says his son, 'he was probably more deeply indebted than to any other, and of whose sermons he appears to have retained a more lively and permanent impression.' It is probably known to but few of our readers, that the special application of Mr. Wilson's talents to the department in which he laboured, was mainly owing to the Secretary of the Baptist Mission. Such cases are refreshing to the Catholic believer. They serve to break down the separating wall which keeps Christians apart from each other, and shew us how superior to our sectarian conventionalities is the gracious agency of the divine Spirit. That the two sections of the Congregational body should have been led to regard each other with mistrust, cherishing uncharitable thoughts, impugning one another's integrity, and sometimes evincing the spirit of unhallowed strife and partizanship, is amongst the most mournful and humiliating spectacles presented by the Church. Such things, however, have been; and even now there are not wanting, on either side, those who would inflame discord, perpetuate disunion, and whisper, when they dare not loudly utter, what charity and truth alike condemn. Let all such ponder on what God does, and then honestly say whether it comports with Christian rectitude-to say nothing of the profession of liberality to maintain the position they assume. The practical difficulty felt by many is to reconcile the supposition of liberality of mind with the earnest advocacy of what is opposite to their creed; and, until this is overcome, no real advance can be made in genuine catholicity. Nothing, in theory, is more obvious than the compatibility of the two, yet nothing is practically more difficult than to act on the supposition. Fidelity to truth requires the one; fidelity to the Christian brotherhood demands the other. Each is necessary to the discharge of duty; and the clear perception of their harmony will furnish one of the best evidences of an advanced state of true-hearted, as opposed to fictitious and artificial, liberality. In the case of Mr. Wilson, Dr. Philip gives the following account of the effect of Mr. Fuller's teaching :
'Thomas Wilson knew the obligation he was under to God and to his cause, before he became a public character; but it was not till he heard a sermon by Mr. Fuller from these words. Cast thy bread upon the waters,' &c., that he realised those obligations to their full extent, and resolved, in humble dependence on Divine aid, to consecrate himself, his time, his talents, and his property to the Lord's service. Under that sermon he felt, for the first time, that what he had been doing for the cause of God did not amount to the self-denial enjoined in the text; and that it was his interest as
well as his duty, not to content himself with the common standard of liberality, but to deny himself not only the luxuries of life, but also what may be deemed [by some] its necessaries.'-p. 134.
Mr. Wilson retired from business in 1798, and devoted himself with increased assiduity to what he justly deemed his special calling. In this he set a noble example; to which we invite the attention of such as are entrusted with a large measure of this world's substance. Nothing is more common in such circumstances than for wealthy men, even though committed to a religious profession, to act on the most selfish and contracted views of duty. Relieved from the pressure of business, they form their plans as though personal indulgence were their only legitimate object. Their time and energy are expended on themselves; or if any other end be proposed, it is too frequently the aggrandizement of their family-the elevation in the social circle of those who are entrusted to their care. The airs of gentility which are in such cases assumed, the poor and pitiful meannesses which are perpetrated, in order to raise themselves in the social scale, are amongst the most contemptible exhibitions which human folly supplies. The opportunities for usefulness which are enjoyed are thus wasted, their own minds suffer injury, and the want of useful occupation frequently embitters the remainder of their lives. It is at all times hazardous for the man of business to leave his wonted engagements. The instances are rare in which his habits fit him for the quiet of seclusion. They need action and excitement, and in their absence too frequently engender irresolution, fretfulness, and dissatisfaction. Mr. Wilson guarded against these evils by the noble purpose to which his leisure was consecrated. He was yet in comparative early life when he retired from business, but his religious principles were sufficiently powerful to stamp
their character on the measures he devised.
'More persons,' says Mr. James, in a letter appended to the Memoir, can be found willing to give their wealth, than can be found to give themselves. To see a man economising the resources of a handsome, though at the commencement of his useful career by no means an exuberant, income; relinquishing the equipage and other appendages of wealth, and contenting himself with the simple habits of men possessed of not half his means, in order that he might have the more to dispense; to see this same man hiring an office, employing a clerk, and going to the scene of his benevolent occupation, there to be accessible to all who wanted either his money or his counsel; and all this with the same constancy, punctuality, and untiring perseverance, as any merchant in the metropolis goes to his counting-house, was a scene which I believe had no parallel, and still has none.'-p. 569.