Images de page
PDF
ePub

to act with less discretion and firmness, than could have been desired.

Emlyn's friends in England and Ireland interceded to have his fine reduced ; at first there appeared no hope of success, but after a petition to the lord chancellor, he decided that “such exorbitant fines were against law," and the thousand pounds were in the end reduced to seventy, which sum was paid into the Queen's treasury. This was not all, however, for the archbishop of Dublin demanded in addition a shilling on the pound as the Queen's almoner, and he insisted that this amount should be paid on the original fine. He relaxed a little at last, after much altercation, and consented to take twenty pounds as a compromise for the whole. Emlyn was then released from prison, having given bonds for his good behaviour through life. This was on the 21st of July, 1705, and he went immediately to England, never again returning to the country where he had endured such unparalleled scenes of trial, suffering, and danger.

During his imprisonment he occupied himself with writing some of the pieces, which have since been published, and also in preaching on the sabbath in a large room, hired by him for the purpose. His audience consisted of such of the prisoners as were allowed to attend him, and a few persons of his former congregation, who were willing to brave the popular odium that they might profit by his instructions, and prove the affection with which they still regarded

their former spiritual guide, even in the midst of his bonds.

Arrived in London he was soon employed to preach to a small congregation collected for this object. To this service he was devoted several years, receiving very little compensation, till by death and other incidents the congregation was dissolved. His being suffered to preach in London gave offence to a few, who made extraordinary professions of orthodoxy, and a formal complaint was carried to Dr Tenison, archbishop of Canterbury. But he knew the character of Emlyn, and was too wise and too charitable to molest him, notwithstanding the lower house of convocation represented it to the Queen as a grievance, that “weekly sermons were preached in defence of the unitarian principles.” Mr Charles Leslie attacked Emlyn in a public manner, and complained that he should be permitted to preach. A controversy on certain theological points was for a time kept up between them, in which our author was particularly successful in elucidating and defending his sentiments. Leslie had talents, but a slender stock of theological knowledge; he had a furious zeal and dogmatical temper; he was boisterous and sarcastic; but he had little of the meekness of a christian, and less of those moral refinements of character so necessary in a fair and serious disputant.

Being thus retired from his ministerial charge, Emlyn preached no more except occasionally by invitation to a Baptist society at'Barbican. He lived cheerfully and contentedly in retirement, deriving a sufficient income from his small fortune to supply his wants, and make him independent of the world. On the death of the celebrated Mr Peirce of Exeter, about the year 1726, it was in agitation by the people of his society to ask Mr Emlyn to become his successor ; but when our author heard of this movement, he requested them not to proceed, as there were weighty reasons, considering his advancing age and infirm health, why it would not be expedient for him to accept their invitation.

He formed an intimate acquaintance with Dr Samuel Clarke, who, as soon as he learnt the purity and disinterestedness of his character, treated him with marked kindness, and as a most confidential friend. For many years he seldom undertook or meditated any important project, without consulting Mr Emlyn, and asking his advice. Our author has rendered a just and affectionate tribute for these acts of friendship and confidence, in a short memoir of Dr Clarke, in which he has explained and triumphantly defended some points in the character of this truly pious, great, and learned man, against the suspicions of jealousy, and the calumnies of open hostility. Among the great and the good, who adorned the age in which he lived, few can be placed on a higher eminence than Dr Clarke.

In the latter stages of his life, Emlyn felt severely the burden of declining years, but his mind continued vigorous, his spirit cheerful, and his religious affections lively and ardent. He wrote and studied, till this exercise became a weariness, and then his hours were passed, at the intervals of bodily pain, either in the conversation of friends, or in drawing materials for pious and grateful reflection from the inexhaustible resources of his own mind. He always spoke with the greatest satisfaction of the joy he felt in his religious opinions, and to his last hour praised God, that he had been pleased to open his mind to those truths, which the Saviour came into the world to reveal and publish for the good of man, and which he believed were the only true grounds of the sinner's hope. The last day of his life was serene and happy ; not one lingering desire clung to the world ; the hour had come and he was ready ; full of gratitude for the past, and of humble confidence in the future, he looked forward with an eye of faith, that brightened and caught new beams of joy, as the taper of life faded, decayed, and expired. His spirit departed on the 30th of May, 1741, in the seventy ninth year of his age.

The narrative of the persecutions suffered by this excellent man is not without its benefit, even in our age ; not that the recurrence of such a scene needs be apprehended ; but it is of eminent use for us to know the value of our religious privileges, and, what is more, to be prepared to maintain them against the usurpation of power, and the lawless ravings of fanaticism; for power will always usurp, bigotry will always rule with a tyrant's rod, and while the sun shall last and the stars shine in the firmament, fanaticism will burn, and blast, and destroy. The reviving spirit of human improvement will do something to temper the rage of false zeal, and make religion worthy of the God who gave, and of the rational beings who profess it. How much, indeed, has it not done since the trial of Emlyn? Where is the dark corner of the civilised protestant world, in which such a blot on the face of society, such an insult to the majesty of law, and such violence to the rights of nature, would now be endured ? The spirit, however, which prompts to an outrage like this, is not easily extinguished; when public sentiment makes it ashamed to appear in open day, and the stern sway of justice shortens the arm of its power, then it works in secret, it whispers of heresies that are abroad, and taints the passing breezes with the poison of slander. It is not changed in its nature, but only in the mode of its operation ; it does not imprison, gibbet, and burn the body; it resorts to a different, but not less certain mode of ruining its victim ; it seeks to undermine reputation, and to fix a stigma on character, and to stamp honest opinion with crime, by sounding the trumpet of aların with the loud, harsh, ominous notes of heresy, infidelity, and irreligion, in the ears of the credulous multitude, till

« PrécédentContinuer »