Thomas Smyth.

Complete works of Rev. Thomas Smyth, D. D online

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try of their birth.

Of the merits of the "Divine Songs/' a very high opinion has
been entertained. The writer, with singular felicity, adapts
himself to the feeble capacity of childhood ; his rhymes present
a rare combination of the simple, the useful, and the attractive ;
and, perhaps, no equal instance can be found in our literature
of the truths of religion, the duties of morality, and the spirit
of poetry, being so admirably accommodated to an infantine
comprehension. It is no slight praise to have expounded the
sublimest lessons of philosophy to the educated, and at the same
time, to have put into "the mouths of babes and sucklings,"
such plain and beautiful effusions. Dr. Johnson's striking
eulogy should not be withheld: "For children," he remarks,
"he condescended to lay aside the scholar, the philosopher, and
the wit, to write little poems of devotion and systems of instruc-
tion, adapted to their wants and capacities, from the dawn of
reason through its gradations of advance in the morning of
life. Every man acquainted with the common principles of
human action, will look with veneration on the writer, who is,
at one time, combating Locke, and at another, making a cate-
chism for children in their fourth year. A voluntary descent
from the dignity of science, is, perhaps, the hardest lesson that
humility can teach." In such compositions as the following:
"whenever I take my walks abroad ;" "my God, who makes the
Sim to know;" "Lord, how delightful 'tis to all;" "and now
another day is gone ;" "tis the voice of the sluggard ;" "how fair
is the rose," &c., we see genius and devotion coming down to
the level of the most juvenile understanding. Had Watts writ-
ten nothing beside, his name would have lived forever; they
form one of the most precious boons which the church of Christ
has ever received from the hands of uninspired man ; and they
will be repeated by the seed of the righteous on earth, until they
hear and learn the songs of the blessed in heaven.

Many of the correspondents of Watts refer to the happy
influence of his songs upon the minds of children ; and several
striking testimonies to this effect are upon record. A Welch
divine observes, "I have seen the sweet delight and joy with
which they have been read by many of the young. On the

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hearts of five children in my own connection they have by the
blessing of God made deep impressions ; and one of these the
other day died comfortably, repeating them a few minutes
before his departure." A religious periodical relates the fol-
lowing affecting instance of the conversion of a poor mother :
"A poor wretched girl, religiously educated, but now abandoned
to misery and want, with an illegitimate child, was struck with
horror at hearing this infant daughter repeat, as soon as she
could well speak, some of the profane language she hs^d taught
her by example. She trembled at the thought, that she was not
only going to hell herself, but leading her child thither. She
instantly resolved the first sixpence she could procure, should
purchase Watts* "Divine Songs,'* of which she had some recol-
lection, to teach her infant daughter. She did so ; and on open-
ing the book, her eye caught the following striking stanzas :

Just as the tree cut down, that falls,
To north or southward, there it lies;
So man departs to heaven or hell.
Fixed in the state wherein he dies.

She read on ; the event ended in her conversion, and she lived
and died an honorable professor of religion.*' Thousands and
tens of thousands of others have recurred in after years to
these lessons of their childhood ; and not a few have traced to
the impressions made by their means, their direction to the
paths of virtue and religion.

"I am surprised,** says Mr. Cecil, "at nothing which Dr.
Watts did, but his hymns for children. Other men could have
written as well as he in his other works; but how he wrote
these hymns I know not.** Thousands of children have had
them indelibly written on their memories and thousands of lisp-
ing tongues have been prepared by their instrumentality to
utter the songs of heaven, which are now there swelling the
chorus of saints and angels; and, doubtless, thousands more
will have reason through eternity to bless God for the instruc-
tion contained in the "Divine and Moral Songs/'

It is important to remark as illustrative of the policy and
principles of that artful sect, which President Quincy says,
"has not within it the principle of sectarianism,*** that t"an
edition of the Songs for children, revised and altered, was pub-
lished anonymously in the year 1786, and generally attributed
to the celebrated Mrs. Barbauld. The design of the accom-

♦Sce N. Y. Observer, March 29, 1845.
tMilner, p. 276 to 277.

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plished editor was, to accommodate Watts' little work to the
principles of Unitarianism, in order to prq>are it for circulation
among the juvenile members of that body. After a compli-
ment to the author for his pleasing versification^ she remarks
in the preface, that Dr. Watts' little bode has been considered
as very defective, or rather erroneous, by great numbers of
serious christians; for though it has been very credibly
rq)orted, and generally believed, that he changed many of his
religious, principles before his death; nevertheless there are
retained in his book some particular doctrines and phrases,
which his better judgment would probably have corrected or
expunged." But, be this as it may, the present editor has judged
it expedient to make many alterations in both these respects.
"It has been," she further remarks, "her principal design to
confine all the ascriptions of praise and thanksgiving to the one
only living and true God, to whom alone all praise and thanks-
giving are most justly due." It will only be necessary to
observe here, that whatever change Watts' religious opinions
underwent, it was not such as to interfere with the sentiments
expressed in his songs, much less to sanction in the slightest
degree, the alterations and omissions of the arian editor. The
hymns entitled, "Praise to God for Redemption," and "The
Hosanna, or Salvation ascribed to Christ," are omitted in the
spurious edition; and the doxologies of Dr. Samuel Clarke, are
inserted in the place of those of Watts. A few specimens of
this so-called improved version the reader may be curious to


Song vii., vsrss 6.

"Here would I learn how Christ has

To save my soul from hell ;
Not all the books on earth beside,

Such heavenly wonders telL"

Song ix., vbrsb 4.

''Dear Lord» this book of thine

Informs me where to go
For grace to pardon all mv sins.

And make me holy too.


"Here I can read and learn.

How Christ, the Son of God,
Did undertake our great concern ;

Our ransom cost his blood."


"Here would I learn how Jesus

To prove his gospel true.
Not all the books on earth beside,

BVr so much good can do"

**0h God, thy book so good.

Informs me what to do.
Besides the knowledge of thy word.

It makes me holy too."

"There I can read and learn,
How Christ the Son of God,

Has undertook our great concern.
And sealed it with his blood"

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"And now he reigns above, "But God still reigns above,

He sends his spirit down, And sends his spirit down,

To show the wonders of his love, To show the wonders of his love.

And make his gospel known." And make the gospel known."

Song xvii.^ verss 2.

"Jesus who reigns above the sky, ''Jesus who lives above the sky,

And keeps the world in awe. Beloved of his God,

Was once a child as young as I, Tho* once a child as young as I,

And kept his Father's law." He kept his Father's word."

Song xxvii., vkrse 4.

"With thoughts of Christ and things "With thoughts of Christ and things

divine, divine,

Fill up this foolish heart of mine ; Employ this foolish heart of

That hoping pardon through his mine;

blooa, That hoping pardon through his

I mav lie down and wake with word,

God." I may lie down and wake with


This production gave rise to severe animadversions; and a
small pamphlet, exposing the unwarrantable liberties taken by
the editor, appeared under the following singular title : "A Let-
ter to the Rev. Mr. — or a great disturbing of the Little Arian
Foxes among the vines ; and part of the remains of Dr. Watts
cleared of a few leaves and rags of Arianism."

But it was not only in poetry that Dr. Watts was eminent.
Of no individual, who was fortunate enough to have Dr. John-
son for his biographer, has he spoken in such favorable terms
as it regards their entire character and talents, as of Dr. Watts.
♦"Few men," he tells us, "have left such purity of character, or
such monuments of laborious piety. He has provided instruc-
tion for all ages, from those who are lisping their first lessons,
to the enlightened readers of Malbranche and Locke; he has
left neither corporeal nor spiritual nature unexamined ; he has
taught the art of reasoning, and the science of the stars. His
character, therefore, must be formed from the multiplicity and
diversity of his attainments, rather than from any single per-
formance, for it would not be safe to claim for him the highest
rank in any single denomination of literary dignity ; yet perhaps
there was nothing in which he would not have excelled if he
had not divided his powers to different pursuits. Of his phi-
losophical pieces his Logic has been received into the universi-
ties, and therefore wants no private recommendation; if he
owes part of it to Le Clerc, it must be considered that no man,

*Dr. Johnson's works, voL 9, p. 245, 246, and 243.
28— Vol. IX.

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who undertakes merely to methodise or illustrate a system, pre-
tends to be its author.

"Few books have been perused by me with greater pleasure
than his 'Improvement of the mind/ of which the radical
principle may indeed be found in Locke's 'Conduct of the
Understanding;' but they are so expanded and ramified by
Watts, as to confer upon him the merit of a work in the highest
degree useful and pleasing. Whoever has the care of instruct-
ing others may be charged with deficicnce in his duty if this
book is not recommended.

"I have mentioned his treatises of Theology as distinct from
his other productions : but the truth is, that whatever he took in
hand, was, by his incessant solicitude for souls, converted to
Theology. As piety predominated in his mind, it is diffused
over his works : under his direction it may be truly said, The-
ologiae Philosophiae ancUlatur; philosophy is subservient to
evangelical instruction; it is difficult to read a page without
learning, or at least wishing to be better. The attention is
caught by indirect instruction, and he that sat down only to rea-
son, is on a sudden compelled to pray.

"He was one of the first authors that taught the Dissenters
to court attention by the graces of language. Whatever they
had among them before, whether of learning or acuteness, was
commonly obscured and blunted by coarseness and inelegance
of style. He shewed them, that zeal and purity might be
expressed and enforced by polished diction.

"He continued to the end of his life, a teacher of a congrega-
tion : and no reader of his works can doubt his fidelity or dili-
gence. In the pulpit, though his low stature, which very little
exceeded five feet, graced him with no advantages of appear-
ance, yet the gravity and propriety of his utterance made his
discourses very efficacious. I once mentioned the reputation
which Mr. Foster had gained by his proper delivery to my
friend Dr. Hawkesworth, who told me, that in the art of pro-
nunciation, he was far inferior to Dr. Watts."

The two Universities of Edinburgh and Aberdeen, in the
year 1728, severally conferred on him, unsolicited and without
his knowledge, the degree of Doctor of Divinity. This aca-
demical honour was never better bestowed or received with less
vanity ; and happy would it have been for such seminaries, had
titles of this sort never been disgraced by any thing mercenary
in their source, or by ignorance or superciliousness in their sub-
jects. In this case the honour was reciprocal so far as a

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diploma may be allowed to bear any proportion to poignancy
of genius, highly cultivated understanding, the widest talents of
the head, added to the most amiable virtues of the heart.

Although a non-conformist from principle and uniformly
such in practice, he held a friendly correspondence with some
of the first characters in the established church. Among these,
were Seeker, Archbishop of Canterbury, Gibson, Bishop of
London, Hort, Archbishop of Suam, and many others of
devoted rank, and eminent literary reputation. Their letters
to him are written in an uncommon strain of veneration and
esteem, and although many expressions occur which bear too
near an affinity to the language of flattery, those who knew the
man, and were benefitted by his writings, may be allowed some
latitude beyond what is common in such cases.

Here we might close this introduction, but that the continued
policy of Unitarians, who in the absence of any capital of gos-
pel truth, are ever ready and anxious to live upon the borrowed
capital of others, demands a vindication of the memory of Dr.
Watts against the false and unwarrantable insinuations, that
before he died he had apostatized from the truth adopted, the
system from which the divinity of our Saviour was excluded,
and had adapted his hymns to this rationalistic system. Such
is the assertion still proclaimed in Unitarian Tracts, and most
culpably encouraged by those who reject the use of all hymns
and spiritual songs in christian worship.

Now for neither of these assertions is there any proof.

That Dr. Watts was led to deep inquiries into the doctrine of
the Trinity, from an earnest desire, as far as possible, to explain
and accommodate it to human reason, and thus to harmonize
and unite such as might otherwise differ, is undoubtedly true.
And that by so doing, he plunged himself into perplexity, gave
offence to his brethren, and failed to satisfy those who take
their reason as the guide and standard of religious truth, is also
true. He was permitted to apply to this subject all the power
of his genius, and the force of his indefatigable perseverance,
in order to demonstrate that "no man by searching can find out
God," that the doctrine concerning "God manifest in the flesh*'
is the "great mystery of godliness ; — that "no man knoweth the
Father save the Son" and that "no man knoweth the Son but
the Father," while "the things of God knoweth no man but the
Spirit of God, who searcheth the deep things of God ;" — and
that "no man therefore can call Jesus Lord but by the Holy

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But it is not true that Dr. Watts ever ceased to believe in the
doctrine of the Trinity.* Dr. Lardner and others may think
that his views lead to the rejection of the Trinity, and so we
think they would in most minds, but with him they were
designed merely to illustrate in some comprehensible way, the
mode in which a trinity of persons could subsist in one essence.

In the year 1726, in reply to Mr. Bradbury, he writes, "as for
my attempts to maintain the new and essential deity of Jesus
Christ and the Holy Spirit, I have often examined my own
heart, and am not conscious to myself that the pride and fond-
ness of novelty has led me into any particular train of thoughts ;
and I beg earnestly, that he that knows all things, would search
and try me in this respect. My only aim has been to guard this
doctrine against the objections and cavils of men, and to see it
in the most defensible light ; and if I can see that done in any
other form, I shall rejoice to bury all my papers in oblivion, or,
if you please, to bum them all."

It may therefore just as well be said that all Trinitarians
believe in three Gods, because Socinians say so, as that Watts
did not believe in a Trinity, because they choose to affirm that
with his views, he must have disbelieved that doctrine.

With equal propriety might those who approve the model
definition of the word person in the Trinity, be held up as Uni-
tarians likewise. But would not such men as Dr. Wallis, Bax-
ter, Dr. South, the authors of the Oxford decree, which pro-
nounced the system of the latter to be the orthodox doctrine of
the Church of England, Tillotson, Doddridge, and the late Dr.
Williams, who all favoured the idea of a model personality,
have rejected the title with indignation?

The allegation that Dr. Watts became a Unitarian, is founded
on certain papers which he drew up some three or four years
before his death, and some of which Dr. Jennings, Mr. Neal,
and Dr. Lardner judged not worthy of publication. The names
of some of these were t"Essays relating to the Trinity, viz : An
Inquiry into the Scriptural Representation of the Father, the
Word, and the Spirit :" 2. "Of the proper Athanasian scheme
of the Trinity:" 3. "The Holy Spirit the true God." 4. "The
ill effects of incorporating the divine doctrine of the Trinity,
with the human explications of it."

*Hi8 error lay in attempting to explain it, so as to make its consistency
with absolute unity apparent. See Life, p. 602.
tSee page 726.

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And it so happens that the largest of these treatise had been
privately printed, though not published by Watts. "The manu-
script," says his biographer, "mentioned in the list No. VII., "A
faithful Inquiry after the ancient and original doctrine of the
Triniy," &c., was actually printed in 1745, while the author was
living, but for certain reasons suppressed ; a copy of this very
PIECE has, however, been recovered, and a new edition pub-
lished in 1802.*

We have now then the means of ascertaining whether Dr.
Lardner's representation of Dr. Watts' sentiments from his
unpublished papers, was well founded or not. The manuscript
of this curious piece, let it be remembered, was among the man-
uscripts which the executors destroyed. From the following
extracts it will be seen, that the suppressed papers assert pre-
cisely the same doctrines that the author had for years main-
tamed, and that he expresses himself in the same characteristic
manner. He here asserts the pre-existence of Jesus Christ —
his intimate union with Deity — and his atonement for the sins
of men — sentiments decidedly adverse to the Unitarian scheme.
He also asserts the doctrine of the Trinity, which Unitarians
deny in every form of it.


"He was bom as a man here on earth, he lived and died as a
man having a human body with a rational soul ; yet it must be
acknowledged, that there is some part of the constitution of the
complete person of our Lord Jesus Christ which existed
through all ancient ages, for he had a glory with the Father
before the foundation of the world. God the Father created

*Th€ Editor observes further, "in a blank leaf of the origrinal work, was
written in a fair hand the following sentence yerbatim: 'The Doctor
printed off only fifty copies of this work, and showed them to some friends,
who all persuaded him that it would ruin his character in his old age, for
publishing such dotage, and at length he was prevailed on to bum them :
so the whole impression of fifty was destroyed without publication, except
this single copy of it, which by an accident escaped the flames.' "

Chalmers in his biographical dictionary, yol. 31, p. 253, says on this
point: ''Upon a careful perusal of the whole, we are inclined to think that
Mr. Palmer has not removed all the difficulties attending the question;
although on the other hand he has ably and fully vindicated Dr. Watts
from the least evidence to be produced from his own pen ; and all that
remains to affect the character of the Doctor, rests on an anonymous accu-
sation in a literary Journal, (Month, Rev. voL 66, p. 170;) the author of
which we suspect to be Dr. Kippis, who is no longer to be called upon for
the proofs of his assertion. With respect to the reports propagated by
some Arian and Socinian writers, that the author revised his Hymns and
Psalms a little before his death, in order to render them, as they say,
'wholly unexceptionable to every christian professor,' they are generally

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the world by Jesus Christ; by him all things were created. He
had an existence, therefore, early enough to create this world,
and to enter into councils of peace with God the Father for the
reconciliation of fallen man to God.

"It is evident, also, that he is often called God in scripture,
(John I. 1, &c.) and since he is true God as well as man, we
have plain directions from scripture to suppose, that this second
person, or this man Christ Jesus, has the true Godhead united
to him, or dwelling in him, in a peculiar manner ; so that they
are often represented as one complex person. It may properly
be called a personal union, since many personal actions are
ascribed to these two Spirits, the human and the divine united.
He is said to have all the fulness of the Godhead dwelling
bodily in him. He is called God manifest in the flesh. He is
of the race of the Jews concerning the flesh, and he is also God
over all blessed for ever: Rom. 9, 5. In the Old Testament, as
well as in the New, he is called both God and man ; Isa. 9, 6 : a
child born, a son given, yet called the mighty God. And Jer.
23, 6: the Lord our righteousness; and Emmanuel or God
with us.

"The benefits which we are to receive from Jesus Christ, are
pardon of sin through his full atonement of satisfaction for
which the dignity of his person is sufficient, as he is one with
God. The dignity of this union spreads itself over all that
Christ did and suffered, and makes it divine and all sufficient.
This union enables him to raise his church out of this world, to
change the hearts of men and turn them to himself ; to give his
presence to his people in their worship ; to preserve his church
from all their enemies, to rule and govern the nations, to raise
the dead, and to judge the world.

"The duties we are required to perform to him are, to honor
him as we honor the Father; to trust in him ; to obey him ; to
pray to him as dying Stephen did, 'Lord Jesus receive my
spirit;* or as Paul, 2 Cor. 12, 8; to give praises to him and
doxologies, as Paul often does, and as the whole creation does.
Rev. 6 : 12, 13 : 'Every creature in heaven and earth said, bless-
ing, and honor, and glory, and power be to him that sitteth upon
the throne, and to the Lamb, for ever and ever!


"The doctrine of the blessed Trinity, or of the Father, the
Son, and the Holy Ghost, with their peculiar characters and
offices, is a special doctrine of the christian religion. This

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sacred three in the Trinity are plainly represented in scripture,
and have been generally represented by christian writers, like
three persons, or three distinct personal agents, as acting differ-
ent parts and sustaining different parts, and sustaining different
characters in the affairs of our salvation ; and yet it seems to be
abundantly evident also in scripture that they are all three
represented as having true and proper Deity some way belong-
ing to them, and that the names, titles, attributes and operations
of Godhead are ascribed to the three in the Old Testament,
and in the New. This is the substance of doctrine itself, as
revealed in the Bible, and the writers on the Trinity have so
often proved it, that I need not repeat the proofs here. Yet
there are sufficient guards in the New Testament, that the
ancient doctrine of the eternal unity of God must have no
inroad made upon it by Christianity."

We will only add that on the Holy Spirit the views of Dr.
Watts in their most latitudinarian state were these: "In his
Scrip. Doct. of the Trinity," he asks, "Is it proper for us to
address ourselves in a way of prayer or praise, directly to the
blessed Spirit, since we cannot find it plainly commanded or
practised in the word of God ?"

"Answer. I confess we cannot find in scripture any such

Online LibraryThomas SmythComplete works of Rev. Thomas Smyth, D. D → online text (page 35 of 68)