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title of the " Wits," (though but a very few of
them have a right to it,) took up from both hands
what they had said, to make one another appear
ridiculous ; and from thence persuaded the world
to laugh at both, and at all religion for their
sakes ; and, therefore, he often wished there
might be some law to make all scurrility or bit-
terness in disputes about religion punishable.
But as he lamented the proceeding too rigor-
ously against the nonconfoniiists, so he declared
himself always on the side of the Church of
England ; and said, those of the separation were
good men, but they had narrow souls, who
would break the peace of the church about
such inconsiderable matters as the points in
difference w-ere.

He scarcely ever meddled in state intrigues ;
yet, upon a proposition that w^as set on foot by
the Lord Keeper Bridgeman, for a comprehen-
sion of the more moderate dissenters, and a
limited indulgence toward such as could not be
brought within the comprehension, he dispensed
with his maxim of avoiding to engage in mat-
ters of state. There were several meetings
upon that occasion. The divine of the Church
of England that appeared most considerably for
it, was Dr. Wilkins, afterward promoted to the
bishopric of Chester ; a man of as great a
mind, as true a judgment, as eminent virtues,


and of as ^ood a soul, as any I ever knew. He
being- determined as well by his excellent tem-
per, as by his foresight and prudence, by which
he early perceived the great prejudices that re-
lii{ion received, and the vast dangers the refor-
mation was likely to fall under by those divi-
sions, set about that project with the magnanimity
that was indeed peculiar to himself; for though
he was much censured by many of his own
side, and seconded by very few, yet he pushed
it as far as he could. After several conferences
with two of the most eminent of the Presbyte-
rian divines, heads were agreed on, some abate-
ments were to be made, and explanations were
to be accepted of. The particulars of that pro-
ject beinsf thus concerted, they were brought to
the lord chief baron, who put them in form of a
bill, to be presented to tlie next session of par-

But two parties appeared vigorously against
this design : the one was of some zealous cler-
gymen, who thouLdit it below the dignity of the
church to alter laws, and change settlements,
for the sake of some whom they esteemed
schismatics. They also believed it was better
to keep them out of the church than bring them
into it, .since a faction U}X)n that would arise in
the church, which they thought might be more
dangerous than the schism itself was. Besides,
thoy said, if some things were now to be
changed in compliance with the humour of a
party, as soon as that was done, another })arty
might demand other concessions ; and there


might be as good reasons invented for these as
for those ; many such concessions might also
shake those of our own communion, and tempt
them to forsake us, and go over to the Church
of Rome ; pretending that we changed so often,
that they were thereby inclined to be of a
church that was constant and true to herself.
These were the reasons brought, and chiefly
insisted on, against all comprehension ; and
they wrought upon the greater part of the
house of commons, so that they passed a
vote against the receiving of any bill for that

There were others that opposed it upon very
different ends : they designed to sheUer the
papists from the execution of the law, and saw
clearly that nothing could bring in popery so
well as a toleration. But to tolerate popery
barefaced would have startled the nation too
much ; so it was necessary to hinder all the
propositions for union, since the keeping up the
differences was the best colour they could find
for getting the toleration to pass only as a slack-
ening the laws against dissenters, whose num-
bers and wealth made it advisable to have some
regard to them ; and under this pretence popery
might have crept in more covered and less re-
garded. So these counsels being more accept-
able to some concealed papists then in great
power, as has since appeared but too evidently,
the whole project for comprehension was let
fall ; and those who had set it on foot came to
be looked on with an ill eve, as secret favour-


ers of the dissenters, underminers of the church,
and every thiii^ else that jealousy and distaste
could cast on them.

But upon this occasion the lord chief baron
and Dr. Wilkins came to contract a firm and
familiar friendship ; and the lord chief baron
having much business, and little time to spare,
did, to enjoy the other the more, what he had
scarcely ever done before ; he went sometimes
to dine with him. And though he lived in great
friendship with some other eminent clergymen,
as Dr. Ward, bishop of Salisbury ; Dr. Barlow,
bishop of J.incoln ; Dr. Barrow, late master of
Trinity CJollege ; Dr. Tillotson, dean of Canter-
bury, and Dr. Stillingfleet, dean of St. Paul's ;
(men so well known, and so much esteemed,
that as it was no wonder the lord chief baron
valued their conversation highly, so those of
them that are yet alive will think it no lessening
of the character they are so deservedly in, that
they are reckoned among Judge Hale's friends ;)
yet there was an intimacy and freedom in his
converse with Bishop Wilkins, that was singu-
lar to him alone. He had, during the late wars,
lived in a long and entire friendship with the
apostolical primate of Ireland, Bishop Usher :
their curious searches into antiquity, and the
sympathy of both their tempers, led them to a
gTcat agreement almost in every thing. He
held also great conversation with Mr. Baxter,
who was his neighbour at Acton, on whom he
looked as a person of frreat devotion and piety,
and of a very subtile and quick apprehension :


their conversation lay most in metaphysical and
abstracted ideas and schemes.

He looked with great sorrow on the impiety
and atheism of the age ; and so he set himself
to oppose it, not only by the shining example
of his own life, but by engaging in a cause that
indeed could hardly fall into better hands : and
as he could not find a subject more worthy of
himself, so there were (ew in the age that un-
derstood it so well, and could manage it more
skilfully. The occasion that first led him to
write about it was this : he was a strict ob-
server of the Lord's day ; in which, besides his
constancy in the public worship of God, he
used to call all his family together, and repeat to
them the heads of the sermons, with some addi-
tions of his own, which he fitted for their capa-
cities and circumstances ; and that being done,
he had a custom of shutting himself up for two
or three hours ; which he either spent in his
secret devotions, or on such profitable medita-
tions as did then occur to his thoughts. He
wrote them with the same simplicity that he
formed them in his mind, without any art, or so
much as a thought to let them be published.
He never corrected them ; but laid them by,
when he had finished them, having intended
only to fix and preserve his own refiections in
them ; so that he used no sort of care to polish
them, or make the first draught perfecter than
when they fell from his pen. These fell into
the hands of a worthy person, and he judging,
as well he miaht. that the couununicatinir them


to the world mi^ht be a public service, printed
two volumes of them in octavo, a little before
the author's death ; containing his


1. Of our latter end.

2. Of wisdom, and the fear of God.

3. Of the knowledge of Christ crucified.

4. The victory of faith over the world.

5. Of humility.

6. Jacob's vow.

7. Of contentalion.

8. Of afflictions.

9. A good method to entertain unstable and

troublesome times.

10. Changes and troubles : a poem.

11. Of the redemption of time.

12. The great audit.

13. Directions touching keeping the Lord's

day : in a letter to his children.

14. Poems written upon Christmas day.

In the second Volume.

1. An inquiry touching happiness.

2. The chief end of man.

3. Upon Eccles. xii, 1, Remember thy


4. Upon Psalm h, 10, Create a clean heart in

me. With a poem.

5. The folly and mischief of sin.

6. Of self-denial.

7. Motives to watchfulness, in reference to

the good and evil angels.


8. Of moderation of the affections.

9. Of worldly hope and expectation.

10. Upon Heb. xiii, 14, We have here no

continuing" city.

11. Of contentedness and patience.

12. Of moderation of anger.

13. A preparative against afflictions.

14. Of submission, prayer, and thanksgiving.

15. Of prayer and thanksgiving, on Psalm

cxvi, 12.

16. Meditations on the Lord's prayer, with a

paraphrase upon it.

In them there appears a generous and true
spirit of religion, mixed with most serious and
fervent devotion ; and perhaps with the more
advantage, that the style wants some correction,
which shows they were the genuine productions
of an excellent mind, entertaining itself in secret
with such contemplations. The style is clear
and masculine, in a due temper between flatness
and affectation ; in which he expresses his
thoughts both easily and decently. In writing
these discourses, having run over most of the
subjects that his own circumstances led liim
chiefly to consider, he began to be in some
pain to choose new arguments ; and therefore
resolved to fix on a theme that should hold hitn

He was soon determined in his choice, by
the immoral and irreligious principles and prac-
tices that had so long vexed his righteous soul ;
and therefore began a great design against


atheism ; the first part of which only is printed,
of the ''Origination of Mankind," designed to
prove the creation of the world, and the truth of
the Mosaical history.

The second part was of the nature of the soul,
and of a future state.

The third part was concerning the attributes
of God, both from the abstracted ideas of him,
and the light of nature, the evidence of Provi-
dence, the notions of morality, and the voice of

And the fourth part was concerning the truth
and authority of the Scriptures, with answers to
the objections against them. On writing these
he spent seven years. He wrote them with so
much consideration, that one, M'ho perused the
oriijinal under his own hand, which was the
first draught of it, told me, he did not remem-
ber of any considerable alteration, perhaps not
of twenty words in the whole work.

The way of his writing them, only on the eve-
nings of the Lord's day, when he was in town,
and not much oftener when he was in the coun-
try, made, that they are not so contracted, as it
is very likely he would have writ them, if he
had been more at leisure to have brought his
thoughts into a narrower compass, and fewer

But making some allowance for the largeness
of the style, that volume that is printed is gene-
rally acknowledcred to be one of the most per-
fect pieces, both of learninij and reasoning, that
has been written on that subject. And he who


read a greater part of the other vohimes told me,
they were all of a piece with the first.

When he had finished this work, he sent it
by an unknown hand to bishop Wilkins, to de-
sire his judgment of it : but he that brought it
would give no other account of the author, but
that he was not a clergyman. The Bishop and
his vrorthy friend Dr. Tillotson read a great
deal of it with much pleasure ; but could not
imagine who could be the author, and how a
man that was master of so much reason, and so
great a variety of knowledge, should be so un-
known to them, that they could not find him out
by those characters which are so little common.
At last I)r. Tillotson guessed it must be the
lord chief baron ; to which the other presently
agreed, wondering h^ had been so long in finding
it out. So they went immediately to him, and
the bishop thanking him for the entertainment
he had received from his works, he blushed ex-
tremely, not without some displeasure, appre-
hending that the person he had trusted had dis-
covered him. But the bishop soon cleared that,
and told him he had discovered himself; for the
learning of that book was so various, that none
but he could be the author of it. And that
bishop, having a freedom in delivering his opi-
nion of things and persons, which perhaps few
ever managed both with so much plainness and
prudence, told him, there was nothing could be
better said on these argimients, if he could bring
it into a less compass : but if he had not leisure
for that, he thouoht it much better to have it


come out, though a little too large, than that the
world should be dcpri\'ed of the good which
it must needs do. But our judge had never
liie opportunities of revising it, so a little be-
fore his death he sent the first part of it to the

In the beginning of it, he gives an essay of
his excellent way of methodizing things ; in
which he was so great a master, that whatever
he undertook he would presently cast into so
perfect a scheme, that he could never afterward
con-ect it. lie runs out copiously upon the ar-
gument of the impossibility of an eternal suc-
cession of time, to show that time and eternity
are inconsistent one with another ; and that
therefore all duration that was past and defined
by time, could not be from eternity ; and he
shows the difierence between successive eter-
nity already past, and one to come : so that
though the latter is possible, the former is not so ;
for all the parts of the former have actually been,
and therefore being defined by time, cannot be
eternal ; whereas the other are still future to all
eternity; so that this reasoning cannot be turn-
ed to prove the possibility of eternal successions
that have been, as well as eternal successions
that shall be. This he follows with a strength
I never met with in any that managed it before

He brings next all those moral arguments, to
prove that the world had a beginning, agreeing
to the account Moses gives of it ; as that no his-
tory rises higher, than near the time of the


deluge ; and that the first foundation of kingdoms,
the invention of arts, the beginnings of all reli-
gions, the gradual plantation of the world, and
increase of mankind, and the consent of nations,
do agree with it. In managing these, as he
shows profound skill both in historical and phi-
losophical learning ; so he gives a noble dis-
covery of his great candour and probity, that he
would not impose on the reader with a false
show of reasoning by arguments that he knew
had flaws in them ; and therefore upon every one
of these he adds such allays as in a great mea-
sure lessened and took off their force, with as
much exactness of judgment and strictness of
censure, as if he had been set to plead for the
other side ; and indeed sums up the whole evi-
dence for religion as impartially as ever he did
in a trial for life or death to the jury, which
how equally and judiciously he always did, the
whole nation well knows.

After that he examines the ancient opinions
of the philosophers ; and enlarges with a great
variety of curious reflections, in answering that
only argument that has any appearance of
strength for the casual production of man, from
the origination of insects out of putrefied matter,
as is commonly supposed ; and he concluded
the book, showing how rational and philosophi-
cal the account which Moses gives of it is.
There is in it all a sagacity and quickness of
thought, mixed with great and curious learning,
that i confess I never met together in any other
book on that subject. Among other conjectures,


one he gives concerning the deluge is, that he
did not think the face of the earth and the wa-
ters were altogether the same before the uni-
versal deluge, and after ; '• but possibly the face
of the earth was more even than now it is ; the
seas possibly more dilated and extended, and
not so deep as now." And a little after, " Pos-
sibly the seas have undermined much of the
appearing continent of earth." This I the rather
take notice o\\ because it hath been, since his
death, made out in a most ingenious and most
elegantly written book, by Mr, Burnet, of Christ's
College, in Cambridge, who has given such an
essay toward the proving the possibility of a
universal deluge, and from thence has collected
with great sagacity, what paradise was before
it, as has not been offered by any philosopher
before him.

While the judge was thus employing his
time, the Lord Chief Justice Keyling dying, he
was, on May 18th, 1671, promoted to be lord
chief justice of England. He had made the
pleas of the crown one of his chief studies ; and
by much search, and long observation, had com-
posed that great work concerning them, former-
ly mentioned ; he that holds the high office of
justiciary in that court being the chief trustee
and asserter of the liberties of his country. All
people applauded this choice, and thought their
liberties could not be better deposited than in
the hands of one, that, as he understood them
well, so he had all the justice and courage that
so sacred a trust required. One thing was


much observed and commended in him ; that
when there was a great inequality in the abihty
and learning of the counsellors that were to
plead one against another, he thought it became
him, as the judge, to supply that : so he Avould
enforce what the weaker counsel managed but
indifferently, and not suffer the more learned to
carry the business by the advantage they had
over the others, in their quickness and skill in
law, and readiness in pleading, till all things
were cleared in v/hich the merits and strength
of the ill-defended cause lay. He was not sa-
tisfied barely to -give his judgment in causes ;
but did, especially in all intricate ones, give
such an account of the reasons that prevailed
with him, that the counsel did not only acquiesce
in his authority, but were so convinced by his
reasons, that I have heard many profess, that
he brought them often to change their opinions ;
so that his giving of judgment was really a
learned lecture upon that point of law ; and
which was yet more, the parties themselves,
though interest does too commonly corrupt the
judgment, were generally satisfied with the jus-
tice of his decisions, even when they were
made against them. His impartial justice and
gTeat diligence drew the chief practice after
him, into whatsoever court he came. Since,
though the courts of the common pleas, the ex-
chequer, and the king's bench, are appointed for
the trial of causes of different natures ; yet it
is easy to bring most causes into any of them,
as the counsel or attorneys please : so, as he


had drawn the business much alter him, both
into tile common pleas and the exchequer, it
now followed him into the king's bench ; and
many causes, that were depending in the ex-
chequer, and not determined, were let fall
tliere, and brought again before him in the court
to which he was now removed. And here did
he spend the rest of his public life and employ-
ment. But about four years and a half after
this advancement, he, who had hitherto enjoy-
ed a firm and vigorous health, to which his
great temperance, and the equality of his mind,
did not a little conduce, was on a sudden brought
very low by an inflammation in his midriff', which
in two days' time broke the constitution of his
health to such a degree that he never recover-
ed it. He became so asthmatical, that with
great difficulty he could fetch his breath, that
determined in a dropsy, of which he afterward
died. He understood physic so well, that, con-
sidering his age, he concluded his distemper
must carry him ofT in a little time ; and, there-
fore, he resolved to have some of the last months
of his life reserved to himself, that, being freed
from Jill worldly cares, he might be preparing for
his change. He was also so much disabled in
his body, that he could hardly, though supported
by his servants, walk through Westminster Hall,
or endure the toil of business. He had been a
long time wearied with the distractions that his
employment had brought f»n him, and his profes-
sion was become ungrateful to him. He loved
to apply himself wholly to better purposes, as


will appear by a paper tuat he wrote on this
subject, which I shall here insert.

" First, If I consider the business of my
profession, whether as an advocate or as a
judge ; it is true, I do acknowledge, by the in-
stitution of almighty God, and the dispensation
of his providence, I am bound to industry and
fidelity in it : and as it is an act of obedience
unto his will, it carries with it some things of
religious duty, and I may and do take comfort
in it, and expect a reward of my obedience to
him, and the good that I do to mankind therein,
from the bounty, and beneficence, and promise
of almighty God. And it is true also, that with-
out such employments civil societies cannot be
supported, and great good redounds to mankind
from them : and in these respects, the con-
science of my own industry, fidelity, and integ-
rity in them, is a great comfort and satisfaction
to me. But yet this I must say concerning
these employments, considered simply in them-
selves, that they are very full of cares, anxieties,
and perturbations.

" Secondly, That though they are beneficial
to others, yet they are of the least benefit to him
that is employed in them.

" Thirdly, That they do necessarily involve
the party, whose office it is, in great dangers,
difficulties, and calumnies.

" Fourthly, That they only serve for the
meridian of this life, which is short and uncer-


" Fifthly, That though it be my duty faith-
fully to serve in them, while I am called to
them, and till I am duly called from them, yet
they are great consumers of that little time we
have here ; which, as it seems to me, might be
better spent in a pious contemplative life, and
a due provision for eternity. I do not know a
better temporal employment than Martha had,
in testifying her love and duty to our Saviour,
by making provision for him : yet our Lord tells
her, that though she was troubled about many
things, there was only one thing necessary ;
and .Mary had chosen the better part."

By this the reader will see, that he continu-
ed in his station upon no other consideration,
but that being set in it by the providence of
God, he judged he could not abandon that post
which was assigned him, without preferring his
own private inclination to the choice God had
made for him. But now that same providence
having by this great distemper disengaged him
from the obligation of liolding a place which he
was no lonoer able to discharge, he resolved to
resign it. This was no sooner surmised abroad,
than it drew upon him the importunities of all
his friends, and the clamour of the whole town,
to divert him from it ; but all was to no purpose.
There was but one argument that could move
him, which was, that he was obliged to con-
tinue in the employment God had put him in,
for the good of the public. But to this he had
such an answer that even those who were most


concerned in his withdrawing could not but see
that the reasons inducing him to it were but too
strong. So he made application to his majesty
for his writ of ease, which the king was very-
unwilling to grant him, and offered to let hini
hold his place still, he doing what business he
could in his chamber : but he said, he could
not with a good conscience continue in it, since
he was no longer able to discharge t'ue duty
belonging to it.

But yet such was the general satisfaction
which all the kingdom received by his excel-
lent administration of justice, that the king,
though he could not well deny his request, yet
he deferred the granting of it as Jong as was
possible. Nor could the lord chancellor be pre-
vailed with to move the king to hasten his dis-
charge, though the chief justice often pressed
him to it.

At last having wearied himself and all his
friends with his importunate desires, and grow-

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Online LibraryThomas JacksonChristian biography .. → online text (page 3 of 18)