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WILLIAM WILBERFORCE, Esa.
MY DEAR SIR,
I am not certain that my motive was quite pure, when I felt a very powerful desire that, in a way of some little publicity and continuance, I might appear associated with one so esteemed and illustrious as the man whose name dignifies this page, and at whose feet I presume to lay these volumes.
A writer of judgment and wit has somewhere said, that "there are good persons with whom it will be soon enough to be acquainted in heaven." But there are individuals with whom it is no common privilege to have been acquainted on earth.
It is now more than forty years since the writer of this address was indulged and honoured with your notice and friendship. During this period, (so long in the brevity of human life!) he has had many opportunities of deriving great pleasure and profit from your private conversation; and also of observing, in your public career, the proofs you have displayed of the orator, the statesman, the advocate of enlightened freedom, and the feeling, fearless, persevering, and successful opponent of a traffic "that is a reproach to any people." But he would be unworthy of the ministry he fills, and be ashamed of the age he has now reached, as a professed follower of your Lord and Saviour, if he could not increasingly say, with Young,
"A CHRISTIAN is the highest style of man."
All other greatness is, in the view of faith, seducing and dangerous; in actual enjoyment, unsatisfactory and vain; and in duration, fleeting and momentary. "The world passeth away, and the lusts thereof; but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever." The expectation of the man who has his "portion in this life" is continually deteriorating; for every hour brings him nearer the loss of all his treasure; and "as he came forth of his mother's womb, naked shall he return to go as he came, and shall take nothing of
his labour, which he may carry away in his hand." But the "good hope through grace," which animates the believer, is always approaching its realities; and therefore grows, with the lapse of time, more valuable and more lively. As it is spiritual in its quality, and heavenly in its object, it does not depend on outward things, and is not affected with the decays of nature. Like the Glastonbury thorn, fabulously planted by Joseph of Arimathæa, it blooms in the depth of winter. It "brings forth fruit in old age." "At evening-tide it is light"-" For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day."
And this, my dear sir, you are now happily experiencing, at the close of more than "threescore years and ten." And I hail you, not as descending towards the grave under the applause of nations, but as an heir of immortality, "looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life." Attended with the thanksgivings of the truly wise and good on your behalf, and in the comforts of the Holy Ghost, and with an unsullied religious reputation, you are finishing a course, which have been enabled to pursue through evil report and through good report; undeviatingly, unabatingly; forgetful of none of the claims of personal or relative godliness, amidst all the cares and engagements of a popularity peculiarly varied and extensive; neglecting, in addition to the influence of example, no means to recommend the one thing needful to others; and, even from the press, defending the interests of practical Christianity, in a work so widely circulated, so justly admired, and so pre-eminently useful, especially among the higher classes in society.
Nor can I omit the opportunity of acknowledging, individually, the obligations I feel myself under to your zeal and wisdom, when, in the novitiate of my ministry, your correspondence furnished me with hints of admonition, instruction, and encouragement, to which I owe much of any degree of acceptance and usefulness with which I have been favoured. Nor can I forbear also to mention another benefactor, whose name I know is as dear to every feeling of your heart as it is to every feeling of my own-the Rev. JOHN NEWTON. With this incomparable man I was brought into an early intimacy, in consequence of his addressing me without solicitation, and when personally unknown to him, in counsels and advice the most seasonable, just as I had emerged into public life, peculiarly young, and inexperienced, and exposed. These opportune advantages, for which I would be daily thankful, recal the exclamation of Solomon, "A word fitly spoken, how good is it!" and lead me to lament that ersons so seldom, in this way, seek or even seize opportunities of
usefulness. How often do they omit to avail themselves of the influence which God, by their rank, or wisdom, or piety, or age, has given them over others, for their good; though it is a talent for which they are responsible; and the use of which would often be as welcome in the exertion as important in the results.
The years which have passed over our acquaintance have been no ordinary ones. They have been signalized by some of the most important events that could affect other nations or our own. I am sufficiently aware of your sentiments, and fully accord with them in thinking, that while, as men and citizens, we cannot be indifferent to the state of public affairs, but ought to be alive to the welfare of a country that has such unexampled claims to our attachment and gratitude; yet that, as Christians, we should judge of things by a rule of our own; and esteem those the best days in which the best cause flourishes most. Now while we have suffered much, and have had much to deplore, yet "the walls of the temple" have been rising "in troublous times," and our political gloom has been relieved by more than gleams of religious glory. Let us not ask with some, "What is the cause that the former days were better than these?" The fact itself is, at least as to spiritual things, certainly inadmissible. Conceding that eighty or ninety years ago we had fewer taxes, and many of the articles of life were more cheaply purchasable, how much more than counterbalanced was this, by an unconverted ministry, a people perishing for lack of knowledge, a general carelessness with regard to the soul, and an entire unconcern for the enlargement of the Redeemer's kingdom!
At our first interview we could refer to none of the many glorious institutions which are now established. I have not space to enumerate them, nor must I yield myself to enlarge on their claims. But, reluctantly to pass by others, one of these has been surpassed by nothing since the days of the Apostles; and when I refer to the importance of its design, the simplicity and wisdom of its constitution, the rapidity of its growth, the vastness of its success, the number of languages into which it has translated the Scriptures, and the immensity of copies which it has distributed, I need not say I mean the British and Foreign Bible Society, which may God preserve uninjured, and continue to smile upon till all shall possess the unsearchable riches of Christ! Since then too, what an extension has there been of Evangelical doctrine in the establishment and among the Dissenters; and, I fearlessly add, of the genuine influences of Divine grace in the hearts and lives of thousandsSurely no unprejudiced individual can trace these things, compara
tively with what preceded them, and not exclaim, "God hath done great things for us, whereof we are glad."
I rejoice, my dear Sir, that a person of your consideration is in the healthful number of those who, notwithstanding the contemptuous denial of some, and the gloomy forebodings of others, believe that real religion has been advancing, and is spreading, and will continue to spread, till, without any disruption of the present system, "the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it." You do not expect that a country called by his name, and in which he has such a growing multitude of followers, will be given up of God; and the fountain from which so many streams of health and life are issuing to bless the world, will be destroyed. You justly think that the way to gain more is not to despise or disown what the Spirit of God has graciously done for us already: and that the way to improvement is not to run down and condemn every present scheme, attainment, and exertion, because they are not free from those failings which some are too studious to discover, too delighted to expose, and too zealous to enlarge and magnify. If we are not to be weary in well-doing, we need not only exhortation, but hope, which is at once the most active as well as the most cheerful principle. Nothing so unnerves energy and slackens diligence as despondency. Nothing is equally contagious with fear. Those who feel alarm always love to transfuse it. Awful intimations of approaching evils are not only congenial with the melancholic, but the dissatisfied; and while they distress the timid, they charm those who are given to change. It is also easy to perceive that when men have committed themselves in woful announcements, they immediately feel a kind of prophetical credit at stake, and are under a considerable temptation to welcome disasters as prognostics: for though they may professedly pray against the judgments, they know, and this is a great drawback to their fervency, that their avowed creed requires the calamities as vouchers of the wisdom and truth of their interpretations. If, to preserve his reputation from suspicion, after he had cried, Yet forty days and Nineveh shall be destroyed, Jonah himself was sad and sullen, and thought he did well to be angry even unto death, because the city, with all the men, women, children, and cattle, was not demolished, according to his word! what may not be feared from human nature now, if exercised with similar disappointments?
As, owing to the mildness and justice of the laws of the paternal government under which we are privileged to live, there is now no