THE LIFE OF PRINCIPAL
IN THE STUDY.
Leith Past and Present - Early Rising - Doddridge - Preparation of Discourses - Choice of Texts - Courses of General Study - System - Habits - Commonplace Books - Conversation - Harvests - Science and Literature - Favourite Books - Edinburgh Review - Influence - Experience reflected in Counsels to Others - Extracts.
THE Leith of the present day has almost ceased to be
distinguishable from Edinburgh. A stranger looking down from the Calton Hill,
would find it impossible to determine where the beautiful capital ends and the
busy seaport begins. But sixty years ago, when Mr. Harper entered on his
ministry in Leith, the two places scarcely touched at any point. Gardens and
nurseries, and old family mansions in enclosed parks, where the sheep grazed
peacefully, intervened. Leith Walk, the connecting link between city and
seaport, had still its long unbroken hedgerows in many places on either side,
and the 'Half-way House ' was a familiar and welcome resting-place. Not many
years earlier, it was no very rare experience for footpads to track the steps
and lighten the purses of travellers hastening to catch the early boat to
Burntisland or Pettycur, and the few streets in North Leith straddled their way
in irregular lines in front and in rear, very much in the style of a Portuguese
or Spanish town of the present day. Things had already changed much for the
better before our young minister entered on his pastorate, in the midst of a
population that more than once doubled itself before his work was
He was accustomed to be in his study every morning at six o'clock, kindling his own fire, in respect to which he was accustomed playfully to boast, that he was ' quite an expert in the art of fire-raising ;' and the first two hours were spent in devotional exercises and reading the Scriptures, his Hebrew Bible and his Greek New Testament being always open at his side. Many an artisan passing in the cold winter mornings to his work, knew by the lighted window that the earnest student was at his labours before him. This practice was continued without interruption for a period of more than sixty years, when at length 'the keepers of the house began to tremble.' It will be remembered that Doddridge pursued a similar custom; and we have his own strong testimony that, practically, it added ten years to his life, putting it in his power to do an amount of work as an author, which must otherwise have been left undone; and that one outcome of it was his valuable Family Expositor, the whole of which was written in the silent morning hours. To much of Mr. Harper's success as a Christian minister, and of his influence and usefulness as a public man, we have the key in this one life habit. It gave him opportunity for secret prayer and calm reading and meditation when his faculties had been freshened by the night's rest, and when he knew that for two precious hours he was fenced round and secured from those interruptions against which no minister in a large town is safe in later hours of the day. And it afforded him leisure to sketch the programme of his day's duties, accounting for the fact which many noticed but could not explain, that while he was always, one of the busiest workers, he never seemed driven, or in haste.
A large portion of every week was conscientiously devoted to the preparation of discourses for his Sabbath ministry ; for he held it as a sacred conviction that no minister serves his flock as he might, who does not give them the best sermon that his powers of composition, and of careful adaptation to their case, will enable him to produce. His texts for the following Sabbath were usually selected, and his course of thought planned and sketched, on the previous Sabbath evening, in order that he might have ample time to ruminate on his subject during the intervening days, gathering material and illustration alike from nature and art, in company and solitude, and not least in pastoral intercourse with his people. His constant aim was to have his written preparations finished on the Friday evening, in order to secure the Saturday not only for physical rest, but for bringing his mind into full sympathy with the Divine messages and lessons which he was to bear to his pulpit on the Lord's day. He sought to enter his pulpit, not from the heat and hurry of composition, but with his mind unruffled and settled as the high priest's robes. He did not believe that the proper frame for preaching and presiding in the worship of the Church, could be put on, as a thing of course, along with his gown and bands.
But all the while, during every week, he was pursuing separate courses of study in Theology and Biblical Exegesis, appreciating the more, the longer he lived, the maxim of Dr. Arnold, that the mind which is constantly giving out, needs, like the running lake, to be constantly receiving. His custom was to select an important subject for study, and to treat it exhaustively. The results of his reading and meditation were recorded and preserved in a condensed form, in a succession of portable common-place books written in shorthand, one of which he always carried about with him. One topic after another was in this way matured and mastered, and a reference to one of these books, which were carefully indexed, refreshed his memory and gave him back in a few minutes the results of the reading of many days or weeks. We have before us a page of one of these manuscript books, which evidently contains the gathered fruits of weeks of investigation in reference to the opinions of the early Christian fathers on the Divinity of Christ. The whole of these condensed jottings, which range over a very wide and varied field, if printed, would fill at least a dozen octavo volumes. In another set of books, he was accustomed to note the comments of eminent biblical scholars, especially those of foreign Universities and Churches, on important or difficult passages of Scripture, occasionally intermingling with these an independent exegesis of his own. The following specimens are selected from a few of his note-books : -
CENTURY I. - The Sabians, a sect who professed to be disciples of John Baptist, setting him before Jesus Christ. Agreed in many points with the Gnostics. Particularly concerning this sect, see Michaelis' Introduction.
CENTURY II. - Irenaeus' account of LXX. translation as quoted by Eusebius, lib. v. cap. 8. Care and fidelity of the primitive Christians in transcribing sacred books. Irenseus' solemn adjuration on this subject, Euseb. lib. v. cap. 13. Early Unitarians, not only the Ebionites of the second century, but Artemon, Theodotus, etc. An early work against them, quoted by Eusebius, replies to their pretensions, and shows that the apostolical and primitive faith of the Church was according to Trinitarian views, by affirming that the writings of Justin, Miltiades, Tatian, and Clement repeatedly declare that Christ is God. Same work accuses these heretics of abridging the tone of Scripture and of corrupting it in many places, Euseb. lib. v. cap. 27.
1 COR. in. 22. - ' All are yours,' belong to you, as they minister to your good. You belong to Christ, as He hath bought you with a price. Christ is God's, as the Mediator or medium through whom all things are made yours. It is as being Christ's that all things are made yours.
1 COR. VIII. 7. - The heathen worship idols as the shrines of Deity, 'with conscience of the idol.' This probably describes a belief or acknowledgment of some spirit-power residing in the idol to whom the worship is paid, and to whom the person would feel committed by sitting at meat in the idol's temple. This view appears to be confirmed by ver. 6. It is the one God and one Lord of whom the persons spoken of had not the knowledge. Does not this plainly imply that the ' conscience of the idol' was a lingering belief that it was the shrine of some invisible power ?
2 COR. XI. 17-28. - Paul defends himself against the charge of being a pretender and a fool. "If any of you consider me in this character, then give me the indulgence which I claim, while I plead for myself in this capacity. What I am going to say in the way of confident boasting, is in this character; not as a servant of Christ, but in the assumed character of a fool (ver. 16), as indeed on the carnal ground of which many boast, I may glory also (ver. 18). In seeking this indulgence, I ask no more than you extend to others who are fools and pretenders indeed, ver. 20." Then follows a description of these men, skilfully put so as to expose the folly of the Corinthians in becoming their dupes. "I speak in relation to the reproach thrown on me, as if I were a weak and witless person, unable to make good my claims; but in whatsoever thing any is bold, hear what I can say for myself on the same, and on better grounds". In vers. 21, 22, he reminds them that he speaks in the character which his enemies imputed to him, and which, for the sake of argument, he for the moment assumes, to show them that, on their own principles, his claims were beyond theirs. In the latter part he shows that, as a servant of Christ, his claims were also superior in respect of the labours which he underwent and was still enduring.
GAL. ii. 20. - ' Dead to the law' in the previous verse, explained by 'crucified with Christ' in this. "Nevertheless I live, because living unto God. Christ is the author and sustenance of this life by His Word and Spirit; and the principle and practice of it is explained thus: The life which I now live in the flesh I live because He lives, I live as He lives. I am under another power, I have entered on a new existence, and all this through my union to Christ and participation in His benefits".
Nor was Mr. Harper's knowledge always gathered from books. He sought to make conversation tributary. Whenever he met with a man who was reputed as a master in some particular subject, he took eager advantage of his opportunity ; and with apt questions, assuming the posture of a disciple, enriched himself from the stores which were readily laid open to so acute a questioner. But woe to the man who in such circumstances was discovered to be pretentious and superficial, as sometimes happened. The humiliation was terrible, to have the poverty discovered and the reputed wealth shown to be all in the windows, and the extemporized pupil revealed as knowing a great deal more on the very ' speciality,' than the master.
In much the same exhaustive manner in which our minister studied theological questions, did he give himself to the study of some of the popular sciences, such as astronomy, geology, and physiology, endeavouring to keep pace, as far as possible, with the rapid march of modern discovery, and sometimes presenting the results of this, or of the reading of some instructive book of travels, in week-day lectures to his people, whose interests were always near to his heart. In our own rich English literature, though no stranger to the great books of any of its great periods, he was particularly at home with the best writers of the age of Queen Anne, familiarity with whose writings no doubt helped to give to his style that classic purity and elegance, as well as Saxon energy, which were its marked qualities. Tine Spectator was a life companion ; and, belonging to a following age, Cowper's poems, and yet more his Letters, which, with their simplicity, felicity, playful humour, and sweet reflection of pure and placid domestic life, were associated with his early recollections, and held him to the last, spellbound. He liked the old wine of our literature, though he was very far indeed from despising the new.
No modern publication was waited for by him with greater expectation, or read with keener zest in his younger ministry, than the earlier numbers of the Edinburgh Review. Not that he had any sympathy with its sneers at Methodism, or with its slighting references to missions to the heathen and kindred subjects; but that he enjoyed its hearty aspirations after liberty, the extraordinary vigour and freshness of many of its papers, its tremendous castigations of dull and stagnant commonplace, and its fearless exposures of official corruption and exclusiveness in high places. The Edinburgh Review did much to make him a confirmed Liberal in politics for life. We remember his telling us, not many years since, in proof of his enthusiasm in this direction, of his having obtained the privilege of reading the proof-sheets of the earlier numbers of the Review as they were passing through the press. Still, it was theology and the preparation of his weekly discourses for his pulpit that engrossed by far the greater part of every week; and of the spirit in which these congenial labours and studies were pursued, we cannot present a more accurate description than is to be found in his counsels to his students in this very matter, after he had become a Professor of Theology. His advices to them had, many a time before, been addressed to himself in his self-communings and often-renewed resolutions.
How the sense of peace mth God helps the student and the minister - "Among the influences calculated, if not to distract the attention, certainly to depress the inquirer, may be mentioned as none of the least, the unquietness and the despondency of being more fearful than believing respecting our state before God. I assume that the case is one in which the individual has made this matter the subject of earnest consideration. What means your profession of faith in the Gospel - your profession of following Christ - your profession of giving yourselves to the study of Divine truth for the benefit of others, if these things do not imply that the care of your own salvation has been a matter of concern with you ? If this concern has ended happily, if you have found joy and peace in believing, then remark the cheering and healthful influence of such tranquillity on the studies in which you are to be engaged. You are in the joyful circumstances of one who has got a burden off his mind. Thus freed, the mind acquires its firmest tone. So far as itself is concerned, its most momentous business is in a sense settled. Its prospect is bright. It enjoys the sunshine and the light of God's favour. Whatever stimulus therefore can be found in present joy and in the prospect of a far higher blessedness, animates you in your course. There is in it the pleasantness of an employment in which you feel at home, and to the accomplishment of which you can apply your mind with the uninterrupted bent of its faculties.
"This does not imply that, having found good hope through grace, you may withdraw your attention from personal improvement and give yourselves up wholly to care for the things of others. In the calm and undivided contemplation of Divine things, when you study for others, you study for yourselves. The same truth instructs both. The clear views of the objects of faith which qualify for impressing the conscience of a hearer, are not lost to him who holds that truth up to view. It has been performing its office in his own mind, before he brings it out of his treasure for his brother's good. And the advantage which he has when his heart is at rest in the faith of the Gospel, is, that whether for others' good or his own, he can engross himself with such topics in the peaceful contemplation of them, which another cannot do whose soul is yet groping in the twilight and is harassed with many fears."
Connection between doing the will of God and knowing the mind of God.-"Thus the tone of mind which is acquired in a state of grace, constitutes a relish for the things known, and a thirst for a fuller apprehension of them. It is here that, in a peculiar sense, we see the effect of that congeniality which has been remarked upon in other departments of study and of action. Without this congeniality no man can excel. The mind in a state of alienation from truth, or of forced allegiance to study, wants ability to learn. It is but partially the eyes are open. The understanding is sluggish and lacks discernment. The memory retains not what is given. All this is owing to mental aversion. But where there is relish there is mental capacity. Taste is power. The faculties acquire an edge when in a state of pleasurable activity. He "that is spiritual judgeth all things." Receiving the Spirit of God, he knows the things that are freely given to him of God."
"Now, to every child of God the Spirit is given in that state and disposition of mind which the believer cultivates. Possessed of this divinely implanted faculty, to what measures of attainment may not the student of sacred mysteries aspire ! The capacity with which he is now endowed surmounts many obstacles to a spiritual understanding of things, and creates none to its own discouragement and hindrance. A mind otherwise disposed is an impediment to itself. It finds, or makes endless obstructions to successful inquiry. Pride of understanding, popular errors, a captious intellect, worldly-mindedness, and sensual propensities are all so many sources from which the mind, in an unsubdued and ungracious moral condition, draws objections to the truth and raises difficulties in searching after it. To say that the spiritual mind is not liable to such difficulties, at least in their prevailing form, is just to say that he who learns of the Spirit is spiritual.
"How pleasant, then, to find among self-evident truths, that a pious student of the Divine Word possesses in the frame of his mind a facility of progress - a faculty to excel. The affinities and sympathies of the mind are so many active forces which assail the barriers of depraved reason - appetite, habit, sophistry ; and in the vigour with which it clears them away, it indicates a preparedness and disposition - a positive power for pursuing researches into the field of sacred knowledge with perseverance and success. "If any man will do the will of God, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God." Limited as is the view he can take, he is not by this cast down or discouraged. There is the gratification of sanctified taste in what he does know, and there is the pleasure of acquisition in learning more ; yea, and there is the pleasure of exalted efforts to widen the boundaries of discovery. He would look into these things now, rejoicing to believe that though here " he knows but in part, he shall hereafter know even as he is known." Every additional view of Divine things, is delightful to him as a glimpse of the glory that shall in due season be revealed. How different this sentiment of holy aspiration from the cold indifference that would say, Let these things alone for the present, as we shall by and by know all about them with so much less trouble. This is the frigid apathy of unbelief, not meek submission to unavoidable disadvantages. Far from this is the zeal of the believing spirit as it glows with delight in the things themselves, rejoices in strenuous effort to see them more clearly, while according to promise he looks for the perfect day. And what he looks for, he even now in some measure attains, for the frame of mind - the moral capacity - which I speak of, has a present earnest in the promise annexed to it, of receiving enlarged discoveries.'
How much Divine philosophy there is in these elevating sentences ! Were ministers of the Gospel in general rising to their grand apostolic level, we should speedily witness over all the Churches ' times of refreshing from the presence of the Lord.'
End of Selection
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