« PreviousContinue »
STRENGTH AND FEARLESSNESS.
In keeping with the hardy frame, the heroic spirit, and the mathematical training of the author, the works of Barrow are distinguished not so much by excursiveness of fancy or tenderness of feeling, as by the courageous bearing of one who fears no evil in the realms of truth-a style of argument at once conclusive and exhaustive, and an air of universal mastery. In the society of such a reasoner, the recruit in the polemical campaign has no need to be nervous. His commander is evidently accustomed to conquer, and with the breadth of his front and the depth of his column-in the overwhelming array of his proofs, as well as the far-reaching sweep and stately march of his language-there is presage of victory; the onset itself is a triumph. This especially applies to his avowedly argumentative treatises, but it is true of all his productions. As remote as possible from the mere bravo or soldier of fortune, he travels in uniform, and his very pastime is taken in panoply, “proving all things, holding fast that which is good;" his rhetoric never runs away with his judgment, and, amidst the glow and impetus of his most fervid passages, he still retains his conscientiousness and caution, and uses none but the words of truth and soberness. “The Sermons of Barrow,” as has been remarked by an able critic, “ with his Treatise on the Pope's Supremacy, include the whole domain of theology and of morals. There is scarcely a question which is not exhausted, and, by his inimitable copiousness of language, placed in every point of view, and examined with the most conscientious accuracy. Barrow is high above indifference or Pyrrhonism, but his commanding reason can venture to give every fair advantage to the arguments of his adversaries. He is not, indeed, so much a polemic writer as an honest, though devout, investigator of truth. With Barrow we are not haunted with the apprehension that we are following out a partial or imperfect theory ; it is all before us in its boundless range and infinite variety; and it is not till we have received the amplest satisfaction that our assent is demanded to the inevitable conclusion. For this, indeed, and the firm, we trust, inseparable re-union of religion and the highest morality, which had been forced asunder in the reckless contests of fanaticism in all its various forms, we are more indebted to this great divine than to any other single writer. Barrow gave its character of strong sense, solidity, and completeness, to English theology. To some of us he will appear, no doubt, insufferably prolix and unnecessarily multifarious in his divisions. The well-known speech of Charles II., “that he was not a fair man—he left nothing to be said by any one who came after him,' was no doubt true; and perhaps, we, being accustomed to a more rapid and effective style, may feel some of the impatience of the Merry Monarch; yet we think the station to be adjudged both to his intellectual powers and the influence which those powers have exercised on English literature and English thinking, must set him far apart from most of the writers either of his own or any other period."*
Exulting and abounding,” Barrow's style is like the Rhine among rivers. Full of strength and intentness, the thought rides prosperously on its exuberant current, and, amidst all its copiousness, there is no risk of being stranded in its shallow overflow. No author uses adjectives, and epithets, and synonyms, so freely, but he never uses them unmeaningly; and, owing to the sterling truths and real distinctions which it embodies, his copious diction rolls down with cumulative momentum, where poorer thoughts would have spread out in feeble pleonasm. For example : "Wisdom is exceedingly pleasant and peaceable ; in general, by disposing us to acquire and to enjoy all the good delight and happiness we are capable of; and by freeing us from all the inconveniences, mischiefs, and infelicities our condition is subject to. For whatever good from clear understanding, deliberate advice, sagacious foresight,
*"Quarterly Review," vol. lxv. 382.
stable resolution, dexterous address, right intention, and orderly proceeding, doth naturally result, wisdom confers : whatever evil, blind ignorance, false presumption, unwary credulity, precipitate rashness, unsteady purpose, ill contrivance, backwardness, inability, unwieldiness and confusion of thought beget, wisdom prevents.
From a thousand snares and treacherous allurements, from innumerable rocks and dangerous surprises, from exceedingly many needless incumbrances and vexatious toils of fruitless endeavours, she redeems and secures us.”
Or, as a still more striking specimen of his command of words, we may recall his well-known description of wit :-“ It is indeed a thing so versatile and multiform, appearing in so many shapes, so many postures, so many garbs, so variously apprehended by several eyes and judgments, that it seemeth no less hard to settle a clear and certain notion thereof, than to make a portrait of Proteus, or to define the figure of the fleeting air. Sometimes it lieth in pat allusion to a known story, or in seasonable application of a trivial saying, or in forging an apposite tale : sometimes it playeth in words and phrases, taking advantage from the ambiguity of their sense, or the affinity of their sound. Sometimes it is wrapped in a dress of humorous expression : sometimes it lurketh under an odd similitude: sometimes it is lodged in a sly question, in a smart answer, in a quirkish reason, in a shrewd intimation, in cunningly diverting or cleverly retorting an objection : sometimes it is couched in a bold scheme of speech, in a tart irony, in a lusty hyperbole, in a startling metaphor, in a plausible reconciling of contradictions, or in acute nonsense: sometimes a scenical representation of persons or things, a counterfeit speech, a mimical look or gesture passeth for it : sometimes an affected simplicity, sometimes a presumptuous bluntness, giveth it being : sometimes it riseth only from a lucky hitting upon what is strange; sometimes from a crafty wresting obvious matter to the purpose; often it consists in one knows not what, and springeth up one can hardly tell how," &c.
Considering that Barrow wrote his sermons three or four times over, it is wonderful that his sounder judgment did not expunge the low and colloquial phrases which survive in his published writings. Possibly there is some truth in the reason assigned by Coleridge:—“Barrow," says that acute though occasionally fanciful critic, “ often debased his language merely to evidence his loyalty. It was, indeed, no easy task for a man of so much genius, and such a precise mathematical mode of thinking, to adopt, even for a moment, the slang of L'Estrange and Tom Brown; but he succeeded in doing so sometimes. With the exception of such parts, Barrow must be considered as closing the first great period of the English language. Dryden began the second." *
Glorying in the Cross.
The willing susception and the cheerful sustenance of the cross, is indeed the express condition, and the peculiar character of our Christianity ; in signification whereof, it hath been from most ancient times a constant usage to mark those who enter into it with the figure of it. The cross, as the instrument by which our peace with God was wrought, as the stage whereon our Lord did act the last part of His marvellous obedience, consummating our redemption, as the field wherein the Captain of our salvation did achieve his noble victories, and
's “ Table Talk," vol. ii. p. 387. + This needs to be somewhat qualified. Neander says—" It was but too easily, however, that men coufounded the idea with the symbol which represented it; and the efficacy of the faith in Christ crucified was transferred to the outward sign, and a supernatural, sanctifying, protecting power attributed to this-an error the vestiges of which may be traced as far back as the third century.”—Church History (Clark's Edition), vol. i. p. 400.-ED. C.C.
erect His glorious trophies over all the enemies thereof, was well assumed to be the badge of our profession, the ensign of our spiritual warfare, the pledge of our constant adherence to our crucified Saviour; in relation to whom our chief hope is grounded, our great joy and sole glory doth consist ; for, “God forbid” (saith St Paul) “ that I should glory, save in the cross of Christ."
Let it be to the Jews a scandal (or offensive to their fancy, prepossessed with expectations of a Messias flourishing in secular pomp and prosperity); let it be folly to the Greeks (or seem absurd to men puffed up and corrupted in mind with fleshly notions and maxims of worldly craft, disposing them to value nothing which is not grateful to present sense or fancy), that God should put His own most beloved Son into so very sad and despicable a condition; that salvation from death and misery should be procured by so miserable a death; that eternal joy, glory, and happiness should issue from these fountains of sorrow and shame; that a person in external semblance devoted to so opprobrious usage, should be the Lord and Redeemer of mankind, the King and Judge of all the world : let, I say, this doctrine be scandalous and distasteful to some persons tainted with prejudice; let it be strange and incredible to others blinded with self-conceit; let all the inconsiderate, all the proud, all the profane part of mankind openly with their mouth, or closely in heart, slight and reject it: yet to us it must appear grateful and joyous; to us it is truotòs dóyos, “a faithful" and most credible “proposition worthy of all acceptation, that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners,” in this way of suffering for them: to us, who discern by a clearer light, and are endowed with a purer sense, kindled by the Divine Spirit; from whence we may with comfortable satisfaction of mind apprehend and taste, that God could not, in a higher measure or fitter manner, illustrate His glorious attributes of goodness and justice, His infinite grace and mercy toward His poor