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FOR FEBRUARY, 1854.
SKETCH OF THE LIFE AND CHARACTER OF RALPH
THE great English dramatist has / whole. They at best but give an augsaid that “some men have greatness mented impulse to meliorating agencies thrust upon them.", Circumstances already at work, and swell the triumph herald their way. Family connexions, of principles which others have prosocial position, the opinions they advo- pounded. And hence, with whatever cate, and the times on which they have amount of greatness they seem to be fallen, all contribute to form a pedestal invested, they leave no indelible footor platform on which they are at once prints on the sands of time. A few elevated, and to invest their name with short years cover their name with an influence which otherwise they oblivion ; and in after ages they will be never could have commanded. They found only among the mighty multido not bend or control the agencies that tude of the forgotten. are at work around them, or stem the But there are some men, according to tide of events that sweeps the age in the same great authority, who “achieve which they live. They are, however greatness.” They owe nothing to conprominent, the mere creatures of cir- ventionality, or the times on which cumstances. They derive their mental they are cast. Circumstances, instead complexion from the class or party with of marshalling their way, are thrust which they identify themselves, and are aside as obstacles, or compelled to mipassive amid the influences that consti- nister to their triumph. The opinions tute the spirit of their times. Their | they advocate were unknown or deteaching is but the echo of public spised when embraced by them. Of opinion, and their power or popularity the people, there are few or none to aid is to be traced, not to the energy of them, and yet they achieve success. mind that contends with existing evils, Opponents are converted into adhebut to the pliancy that flatters preju- rents, and schemes of polity, civil and dices, and advocates consecrated tradi- ecclesiastical, frowned upon as Utopian tions. They originate nothing; they or fanatical, gather around them, under effect no reformation; they do not lift their advocacy, the homage of the enopinions that were unknown or despised lightened and the good. Their name into public favour, nor do they gather becomes associated with great changes, up the scattered fragments of neglected and the stamp of their power is imtruth, and bind them into a consistent pressed on the spirit of their age. And
hence, as long as the progress of truth Church-now denominated the United is recorded, and as long as the annals Presbyterian Church—he proceeded to of the time in which they lived form a the study of theology under Dr. Lawpart of history, their memory must be son, with a view to the ininistry among held in grateful and admiring remem- that body. But when about to enter brance.
on the ministerial office in connexion To this class of men Dr. Wardlaw with that large and influential section evidently belonged. Neither favoured of the Church, his views of ecclesiastiby circumstances, nor associated with cal polity underwent a change, and he an ecclesiastical body, whose antiquity avowed himself a Congregational Disand social position would have lent senter. weight to his opinions, he nevertheless Whilst Dr. Wardlaw was engaged achieved for himself a name and a posi- with his theological studies, and was tion second to none of his contempora- contemplating the exercise of his minries, and threw around the principles istry in the church which recognises he had embraced a lustre which only his great ancestor, Erskine, as one of originality and genius, combined with its founders, Scotland was deeply unblemished purity of life, could im- agitated throughout its length and part. Surrounded at the outset of his breadth, on questions of ecclesiastical career with the disadvantages and hin- polity, by the secession of Ewing and derances attendant on identification | Innes from the National Church. These with a denomination then “spoken able and devoted men, having adopted against " throughout Scotland, he ra- Congregational views of church polity, pidly arose in public esteem; opposi- relinquished their livings and status as tion and prejudice melted away before clergymen, and went forth on a free his high character as a Christian, and mission to the people of Scotland. They his eloquence as a preacher, until at preached throughout the country, and length his reputation became more than gathered thousands around them, many European, and his name was pronounced of whom embraced their views, and as the most illustrious among his fel- united with them in efforts to arouse low citizens.
and save their slumbering fellowDr. Wardlaw was born on the 22nd countrymen. This gave birth to a hot of December, 1779, in the town of Dal- conflict of opinion—the views and keith. His residence there, however, practices of the seceding clergymen was brief, for at the age of six months and their followers being arraigned he was removed to Glasgow. His father and condemned by the great body of was a merchant of high respectability Presbyterians. Much good, however, in that city, where, for several years, was effected; many were led to true he efficiently, and with satisfaction to repentance and devotedness to God; his fellow-citizens, discharged the du- and not a few able and zcalous men ties of the magistracy, commending united themselves to the infant church, himself to all by his integrity and among whom was Wardlaw, who was Christian stedfastness. By his mother destined to be its leader and chief he descended from Ebenezer ornament for a long series of years. Erskine, one of the most illustrious He attached himself to the Congreganames in Scottish ecclesiastical history. tional Church formed in Glasgow, over
The classical and other literary stu- which the Rev. Greville Ewing predies of Dr. Wardlaw were prosecuted sided. Shortly after a chapel was under able masters in the Grammar built for him in that city, in which he School of Glasgow, and in the Univer- received ordination, and commenced his sity of that city. Having finished his ministry on the 16th of February, 1803. academical course, and being at that In this place of worship he continued time connected with the Secession to labour with growing acceptance,
till 1819, when the splendid and capa- was not still more magnificent. But cious chapel, in West George Street, amid the light that then shone around was erected at a cost exceeding £10,000. him, and the eulogies that fell on his There his eloquence and faithfulness ear, he was not far distant from the as a preacher gathered one of the splendours and the gratulations of a still largest and most influential congrega- nobler triumph. He then stood on the tions in the city of Glasgow, to which threshold of heaven, where he has now he ministered down to the close of his entered, welcomed by the “general life, with a popularity and a power assembly and church of the firstborn;" which have few parallels.
hailed by his Lord, and invested with Soon after his ordination in 1803, he imperishable honours. He survived the was united in marriage to his own jubilee celebration but ten short months. cousin, Miss Jane Smith, by whom he On the 17th of December, 1853, he finhad a numerous family. In 1811 he ished his earthly career, at the age of was associated as fellow-professor with 74, more richly laden with the fruits of Mr. Ewing, in the Theological Seminary abundant and successful labours than then instituted for the training of with years. His fall was not untimely: young men for the ministry, among no promise has been unfulfilled; no Congregational Dissenters in Scotland. expectations have been frustrated. His And so disinterested and superior to all light shone on till it reached the permercenary motives was he as a pro- fect day, and closed amid the magnififessor and a pastor, that for more than cence of an Alpine sunset. And in his a quarter of a century he continued to death he was as much honoured as in discharge the duties of the Theological his life. He was borne to his tomb Chair without fee or reward; and amid thousands of his fellow-citizens, steadfastly resisted all attempts to of all ranks and denominations, who remove him from his flock in West assembled to pay the last tribute of George Street, although tempted by homage to one whom they admired, far ampler emoluments than he received not less for his virtues and the sanctity from them. Such proofs of generous of his life, than for his gifts and accomdevotedness to the field where he plishments. His ashes rest in the commenced his honourable and trium- Necropolis, among those of many of the phant career, invested him with an honoured dead, and doubtless not a few element of moral grandeur in the esti- of the present and of future generamation of his flock and fellow-citizens; | tions will visit the hallowed ground that and, at length, led to the splendid contains them, to express their admiring tribute paid to his character as a Chris- reverence for his name. tian, and his eloquence, learning, and In attempting to form an estimate of suecess as a minister, in the magnificent the character of Dr. Wardlaw, the atand memorable jubilee services of 1853. tention is called to a rare and beautiful All denominations, England and Scot- combination of gifts, virtues, and accomland, united on that occasion in swell-plishments. In whatever light he is ing the congratulations and homage viewed,-in public or private, as a man paid to this distinguished man: and of great mental power, as a scholar, as so merited was the tribute then paid to a preacher, as an author,—he appears him, and with such meekness and possessed of a richness, a variety, and dignity did he bear his honours, that an exquisite symmetry of qualifications the city of Glasgow welcomed the rarely to be met with. There is no celebration as the triumph of one of combination of splendour and meanness her most illustrious sons; and if any -of strength and weakness-of minisfeeling of regret was experienced by terial sanctity and private short-comthe jubilant assembly, it was that the ings : he is a harmonious whole. wreath, which girt his venerable brow, There are no brilliant lights and deep
shadow's. The lustre that surrounds support of error, were instantly dehim does not flash and fade like that of tected and exposed. No parade of false a meteor, but shines with uninterrupted logic, or tawdry embellishments of fancy, steadiness, like that of a fixed star. could screen error from the keen ness of Some, perhaps many, might be found his glance : and whilst there was no in whom a single quality or gift shone approach to violence, or rude triumph with intenser brightness; but none, as when the weak points of an argument far as we can recollect, in whom the were exposed, or when the ground was blended radiance of all was so full and cut away from beneath the feet of an steady.
antagonist, the process was uniformly If he is viewed intellectually, he is so complete that it evinced at once the found to have been possessed of a ro- sharpness of the weapon, and the vigour bust and healthy completeness which of the hand which wielded it. And, as inspired not less with confidence than is often the case, the great argumentative admiration. Following his steps, the skill of Dr. Wardlaw was acc
ccompanied ground is felt to be solid, as well as with wit, and considerable power of sarpicturesque and beautiful. His mind casm. Occasionally his wit sparkled was so constituted as to give birth to like the brilliant scintillations of a diathe sound and the brilliant, the vigor- mond ; and sometimes his sarcasm was ous and the graceful. Every faculty permitted to bite slightly and for a mooccupied and swayed its own field, ment, just to attest his loathing and deneither overshadowing nor being over- testation of what is false, dishonourable, shadowed by any other. There was no
But his natural generosity, extravagance of fancy or imagination heightened by his deep-toned piety into involving an infringement of the dictates apostolic magnanimity, restrained everyof judgment; nor was there any cold thing that might mortify an antagonist, and heartless process of logic which or, by possibility, might impair the chilled and repulsed the affections. force and sanctity of truth. His aim, When the mind of Dr. Wardlaw acted, when he entered the arena of conflict, its operations were the result of all was not self-display, or the mere trihis powers moving in perfect unison. umph of intellectual gladiatorship, but The decisions of the judgment sanction the overthrow of error, the vindication ed and sustained the embellishments of of truth, and the glory of God: and, the fancy, and derived force and persua- hence, in no instance was he ever found siveness from the glow of the affections. to wield an unlawful weapon, or to reThe memory, as a ready handmaid, ad- sort to any expedient of which candour duced the treasures of knowledge com- and the most unsullied honour could be mitted to its keeping, and the reasoning ashamed. It was evidently not the faculty arranged facts and principles love of strife, or impatience of the seinto a solid and harmonious structure, rene enjoyments of study and contemaround which the imagination threw a plation, that forced him into the thorny variety of chaste and beautiful orna- field of controversy. He descended there ments, whilst the natural, though sub- in obedience to the call of truth, and to dued, play of the feelings, animated the fulfil the sacred mission on which he whole with the glow of life.
was sent. And hence his controversial In the field of reasoning or argument works are models of felicitous reasonDr. Wardlaw has rarely been equalled. | ing, bathed in an element of Christian His mind grasped at once the entire sanctity. bearings of a subject. His penetration A hasty glance at the general tone was keen and rapid. Flaws, or weak and characteristics of Dr. Wardlaw's nesses, or subterfuges on the part of an mind, might perhaps lead to the conantagonist, or weak and sophistical clusion that he was defective in imagimodes of reasoning employed in the nation and original power ; but a more