Page images
PDF
EPUB

others. Among these were Philo and ment. Connected by the ties, not the Gnostics, of whose philosophy we only of kindred taste, but of warm know but little, because few persons attachment, with the learned of almost now feel an interest in such specu- all the countries of Europe (many of latious The heresies of the Gnostics which he visited); the object of zealous are, as most of your readers well know, and eager controversy i here for nearly frequently alluded to in the writings the whole of the first half of the eighof Joho and Paul. Now as far as I teenth century; bis histori and cor. can recollect, it seems that the specu- respondence must (if it could be fully lations of these heretics were chiefly brought before the public) constitute confined to the nature of spirit and a great mass of interest, both as it soul, and more especially the Divine regards himself, and the transactious nature; and every one knows that of that period. the second principle in Plato's un- In his own person he fought a long created Triad was called “The Word,” and arduous battle in favour of the Philo imported these notions into rising spirit of free and liberal critiJudaism, and upon the figurative style cism, and finally succeeded under the of the Old Testament it was easy to pressure of what might to most have graft any theories of this nature. The appeared insuperable difficulties, in Word" was found in this passage, “ By laying an ample foundation for the the word of the Lord were the heavens works of a series of critics, who have, made," &c. This Word was soon made in fact, done little more than follow a second and living principle, both his steps, and arrange, in the manner among philosophic Jews and specu- which he first pointed out and praclating Christians; and hence the tised, the greater store of materials Gnostic phantom, of which so much which have since been brought to has been said and written. As John light. in his Epistles argues against this Wetstein sprang from a family long pbantom Theory, as applied to the distinguished for its learning and inperson of Christ, in his Gospel he dustry, several members of it having opposes it as relating to the Divine occupied a very distinguished place in Being, and says, “the Word was God." the literature of Europe. Perhaps we might preserve in our

The most celebrated was John Roown language the Greek distinction dolph Wetstein, himself the son of a of article and no article, by the fol. learned divine and professor of the lowing: “ The Word was with the

He was born and spent Deity, and was Deity."

his life at Basle, the birth place also of These hasty remarks are submitted the subject of this memoir. In his to those who have studied the subject 20th year he had stood a candidate closely; and to prevent weariness, ( for the Professorship of Greek, and leave off sooner than I designed when after travelling through France, EnI began to write. If such speculations gland and Holland, returned to his suit the Monthly Repository, I may native place, where he was loaded take a future opportunity of occupying

with academic honours, published

several very learned works, and conM. N. tinued, even under the pressure of

great infirmities, (which overtook him The Nonconformist.

early in life, and prevented him from No. IX.

reading or writing,) actively engaged Memoir of Wetstein.

in the duties of his situation, instructSHALL not perhaps be deviating ing numerous pupils in the arts of

from our objects, in bringing for disputation and public speaking. ward some particulars of the life and Another relation, John Henry Wetwritings of John James Wetstein; a stein, had been some time established man who deservedly attracted a great as a printer at Amsterdam. He was also deal of attention in his day, and who a man of liberal education and a bighlyis in many respects entitled to our cultivated mind. His acquaintance warmest esteem and gratitude. and correspondence with the learned

There are few persons whose me- of almost every part of Europe, oni moirs might furnish a more ample literary and scientific subjects, was field for instruction as well as amuse- universal. In his trade he was also

same name.

its pages.

The Nonconformist. No. IX.

249 highly distinguished, as one of the passing some time in the different chief of that race of learned printers, Swiss colleges and churches, he prowhich has almost become extinct; ceeded to France, where he enjoyed, and his prefaces to the various works through the literary celebrity of his which he published, will remaiu ample family, the acquaintance of the most monuments of his taste and erudition. learned and distinguished men of the

The father of Wetstein was at the day. There he became intimately actime of the latter's birth, ju 1693, quainted with such men as Montfaucon pastor of the church of St. Leonard's, and Courayer; while in England, to at Basle. He bestowed great pains which he next passed, he contracted ou his son's education, and the result a friendship, which continued through was most gratifying. Endowed by life, with Bentley, under whose innature with a vigorous constitution spection and assistance he employed and an active and powerful mind, a considerable time in the diligent colWetstein soon ran through the outline lation of MSS. After again visiting of his education. At eleven years he Paris with the same object, he trahad passed through all the preparatory velled through Holland and Germany, curses, and entered the University. and returned to Basle in 1717. He In his 20th year he was ordained a was there chosen deacon of the church mioister, and on that occasion chose for of St. Leonard's, a situation which he his disputation the topic to which he held with honour for nine years, till dever ceased to devote himself through the bigotry and intolerance of his life, and produced a learned disqui- brethren drove him from it. sition on the text and various readings The cultivation of his critical studies, of the New Testament.

and opportunities for the collection of His situation was peculiarly favour- information on the subject, were, how. able to the cultivation of this bis chosen ever, never veglected; and he was pursuit. The taste of his uncle, John preparing to set out to Italy, in hopes Wetstein, who held the place of libra- of discoveriog some hitherto uncol. rian, in the duties of which young lated MSS., when his plans were frus. Wetstein assisted him, inclined the trated by the commencement of those same way, and he was thus able early animosities and vexations, which evento accustom his nephew to the task of tually deprived Basle of her brightest collating and examining MSS., and ornament, and shewed her to be the exercising those powers of discrimi- genuine inheritor of the spirit of those nation, which were so necessary to Reformers to whom she owed her the studies which he delighted to cul- foundation. tivate.

When one considers the strueture The labours of the young theologian which the Reformers (as far as their during this period of his life, were power extended) endeavoured to raise immense. He waded through the on the ruins of the one which they whole mass of Greek and Latin au. had so powerfully attacked; that viothors, ecclesiastical and profane, se- lence, bigotry and savage intolerance, lecting all passages illustrative of the were not only “the first," but for a use of words and phrases in the sacred long time almost the only “fruits of writings: he carefully perused the that Reformation which professed to rabbinical books, from which so much assert the right of private judgment information as to the customs and opi- in matters of religion, and to enlighten nions of the Jews is collected in his and humanize mankind;"* that the great work: the various commentators denuolition of one fabric of cruel do. and critics, the ponderous volumes of mination over the rights of conscience the Fathers were all diligently studied; only ended, as far as the eye could and, in short, no labour was thought then reach, in the establishment pertoo heavy, which was endured in the haps of a less imposing, but in many cultivation of his darling pursuit. respects of a more galling, tyranny;

But he did not content himself with that the seeds were then sown of these exertions at home. In bis 21st discussions which deluged Europe, year, he set out in pursuit of know. through a long-succeeding periodo ledge, and particularly in search per with blood and misery; that doctrines fresh materials for the eluciene the state of the sacred tex

• Roscoe's Leo X.

much worse in their practical tendency of controversy with the same Domithan those of Rome could ever be in nicans) the foundations of his faith, any age short of the grossest barba- and to defend so zealously, as thę rism, were enforced by the Reformers pillar of his creed, the doctrine that as the only conditions of salvation;- justification was by faith, and not it requires some calculation of the by works; and even, as his disciple good effects which must result from Armsdorf expressed it, “that good any sort of successful resistance to works were an impediment to salvatyran, before we pronounce that tion."* And thus was the Protestant Erasmus was wrong in doubting whe. cause blasted iu its infancy, by being ther things were not changed for the indelibly impressed with the foul stain worse; at least for a long period of of doctrines, some of wbich (pushed contests between rival systems of bi- as they afterwards were to a higher gotry and intolerance. The seeds of pitch of extravagance by his associates the Reformation had been long sown, and successors) I think we may safely and only waited a favourable oppor- call as abhorrent to all just and contunity to produce the happiest fruits; solotary notions of the Divine perfecthe harvest fell principally into the tions, and as mischievous in their moral hands of a inan who certainly very tendency, and in the way they were much accelerated its progress, but inculcated, as any which he overblighted many of its fairest prospects. turned. As an overthrower of an old church, The Swiss churches had always no one was better fitted for his situ. been celebrated for the zeal with ation; as a founder of a new one, no which they had followed up the tenets one worse: strenuously insisting in of the early Reformers, as methodized the one character, for the right of by Calvin, and afterwards explicitly private judgment; in the other, no defined by the Synod of Dort; and violence seems to have been thought the spirit of bigoted attachment to by him and several of his associates, these dogmas was firmly rooted among as too great to be used in propagating the clergy at Basle, when the suspicion their own dogmas.*

of Wetstein's heterodoxy, whether well The wounded vanity of the Augus. or ill founded, and the bold innovation tine friart at the preference of another which he meditated upon the sanctity order, (the Dominican,) for the emo- of the received text, brought it into lument of dispensing indulgencies, play, and aroused all the evil passions perhaps stimulated his beneficial ex. of his orthodox brethren: but their ertions in the cause of religious liberty, persecutions were rendered doubly against the Roman See; but the same vexatious to him, by the circumstance attachment to his order certainly led of Frey, (who had been his tutor and him to make the dogmas of St. Augus. his friend, who had encouraged him tine (which had long been a source in his undertakings, and had even sti

mulated him to think for himself on

disputed points of doctrine,) being . “ Others abused fire, they water. one of the first, in his character of Those that knew better things ought to Theological Professor, to join in the have done better; neither were they actu- cry which was raised, and afterwards ated by a good spirit, that could lead the to declare himself his most violent and wanderer into a ditch, instead of setting him in the right way; that could drown the

inveterate enemy. His precise moinfected, instead of trying to heal him; or

tives for this conduct it is not easy burn the blind, instead of restoring him to exactly to discover, but it is probable light.” Brandt's Hist. Reform. I. p. 57.

that the dread of censure, the certain + I am aware of the doubt which Ro. difficulties and worldly inconveniences, bertson has raised on this point, Hist. to say the least of them, which appeared Charles V. Book ii.; but giving all the weight which I think is due bis argu- others carried this doctrine, was certainly ment, it does not amount to any thing like afterwards opposed by the Lutherans; but a refutation of the opinion whicb, as he Luther himself “ would not allow good observes, “almost all historians, Popish as works to be considered either as the conwell as Protestant, bave admitted.” ditions or means of salvation, nor even as I Brandt's Hist. Ref. II. p.

a preparation for receiving it." Maclean, de la Cause du Péché, par D. Tolen, Ch. v. Note Mosh. Eccl. Hist. II. p. 170. The extravagant pitch to which Beza and * Mosheim, II. p. 172.

; Traité

The Nonconformist. No. IX.

251

more

on the side of heterodoxy, (while on the tions, and with the concurrence, and other were all the honours and re- indeed under the advice of Frey, wards which pious zeal could bestow Wetstein had ventured on the publion the defenders of the faith,) induced cation of a small portion of his labours, this mean-spirited man to desert the as a specimen of the great work opinions which he had professed and which he contemplated. This immeinstilled into his pupil, and like other diately attracted the attention of the converts from similar motives, to con- learned ; the orthodox took the ceal the insincerity of his heart and alarm; the freedom with which the the hollowness of his professions under decisions of Beza and others were the mask of violent and overacted canvassed, * the knowledge ihat the zeal.*

received text (particularly in passages An interesting account of all the on which the true faith mainly proceedings of this man is contained rested,) would not bear the test of in the Prolegomena of Wetstein's impartial criticism, and that in the 1st Volume of the New Testament, hands of Wetstein imposture was not which I cannot do more than brief- likely to meet with support, roused ly touch upon. It is quite clear that up all the exertions of his brethren he had not only encouraged Wet- to smother the labours of the humble stein in his critical labours, but had deacou of St. Leonard's on their first also prompted him to a disregard appearance. Reports were industri. of the fixed and narrow system of ously spread, with the usual exaggeratheology of the schools of Calvin, tions, of the heretodoxy of the author, and the decisions of the Synod of and the clergy at length presented a Dort, and encouraged him in an petition to the Council, praying the investigation for himself of the evi. suppression of a book which, they dences on which so delicate a subject observed, could do no good, and as that of the doctrine of the Trinity might do a great deal of harm. ^ rested. +

The Council, however, was At the earnest request of his rela- moderate: Wetstein determined to

persist, and in 1730 published his

Prolegomena. The work soon spread * “Fanaticos homines, qui sunt insana- over Europe, and every where excibiles, non curo ; at vehementer dolui, etiain ted the warmest interest. It was ministros verbi divini hoc furore corripi, et com velint esse legis doctores, nescire

now impossible to prevent the disquid dicant, neque de quibus affirment; semination of truth : the battle had aut potius, ut populo placerent et ministros been fought: it was plain that the alios suspectos redderent, sibi vero viam world would not be content with the ad munera ecclesiastica sternerent, ita sanction of great names to accumusimulare. De hâc re sæpe et serio cum lated error; and the enemies of WetCl. Frey egi, eumque enixis precibus per steio were now reduced to the necessity Deum immortalem obtestatus sum, ut ad of venting their spite by persecuting Conventuin Dostrum veniret, et sua auto- his person. A new remonstrance ritate atque prudentia, ne quid porro in- was exhibited to the Council, which Horaretur, suaderet. Respondit; consilia Conventûs esse lenta, et recta monentem

was as unsuccessful as the first; each plerumque nihil aliud efficere, nisi ut sibi outdo the other in zeal for the severest

zealous pillar of orthodoxy strove to incidium et suspicionem conflet." Wetst. Prolegom. I. p. 204.

dogmas of Calvin ; and Wetstein and + Aliquando cnm me non satis expedirem ex inaltis locis, quæ ingenti numero Oserois je joindre à ce conseil une pro Trinitate probanda vulgo afferuntur, petite plainte, sur la manière dont vons et consilium ejus expeterem, fassus est traitez plusieurs grands hommes, entr' plurima in medium proferri, quæ parum autres Beze, dans vos Prolegomènes. Je ad rem facerent, banc autem regulæm in- conois bien des gens, que cela a mis de dicavit, nt in examine singulorum locorum mauvaise humeur ; et peut-être que des omnia tentarem, et primo alias aliorum semblables rivacités ont été de grand cause interpretationes adhiberem, vel etiam ipse du mal.-Letter of Turrettin from Geneva, ercogitarem ; si postea deprenderem, illas Prolegom. 210. don procedere, nec iis quæ praecedunt, nec

+ Summa judicii nostri hæc est; laborem iis quæ sequuntur cohærere, tunc me in illum in Nov. Test, edendo tum levem, recepta interpretatione tuto acquiestere et non necessariam, tum periculosum esse. posse. Ibid. p. 190.

was

his friends were loaded with the with all my power and the opportaopprobrious names of Heretics, Armi- nities which my situation furnished nians, Socinians, &c. How far Wet- me, and zealously inculcated the stein did really go in his religious distinction between the divine per. creed, it is difficult to say. He cer

sons." tainly, through all the controversy,

The failure of Wetstein's enemies denied the full extent of the charges had not discouraged them; on the brought agaiust him on that head, contrary, the boldness with which he but at the same time he does not openly inveighed against the absurdity conceal his difference in opinion as to and mischievous tendency of the doc the interpretation of many important trines which they inculcated, stimupassages from the Calvinistic divines, Jated them to further exertions to cut and avows strongly bis disapprobation off the offending member: and at of the language used, particularly on length iheir perseverance was crowned the subject of the Trinity, by the by a triumph, if, as he observes, zealous brethren who shewed them. " bella ejusmodi theologica triumphos selves ready to go all lengths, and habere possunt." A long list of cry out in the words of Tertullian, . charges were preferred by his active “non pudet quia pudendum est, pror- opponent Frey, in an ecclesiastical sum credibile est, quia ineptum est, convention of the ministers of Basle, certum est quia impossibile est." +

in which violent and arbitrary mea. “ The matter," says he, “ was car

sures were adopted in order to conried to such a pitch by the zeal of stitute a court inclined to go all lengths Frey, that the expressions Trinity is with the prosecutors. The charges Unity, one is three, and three are one,

were then supported by garbled pas. however false and absurd in arith- sages from the loose notes taken by metic and grammar, came to be his pupils of his lectures; every scrap considered in theology as true, pious of paper that could be seized upon and orthodox." +

ransacked; every expression “ By this sort of language,” he which indicated an approach to a observes in another place, “it ap- liberal spirit of theological inquiry or peared to me that both common sense

biblical criticism, was tortured into and true scriptural doctrine would be proof of the nonconformity of his overwhelmed, the natural and instinc- views to the standard of the old retive notions of all civilized nations formers, and of the heterodoxy of his concerning the Supreme Being, de- creed. Some of his pupils were also stroyed, and a senseless form of words produced in evidence against him, and substituted in their place, so as to induced to depose to insulated expressap the foundations of both natural sions and opinions, which they were religion, and the revelation which is, made to recollect hearing fall from as it were, a superstructure to it. their master; and this mockery of This I thought it my duty to oppose justice ended in what might be ex

pected from a court composed of * In lib. de Carne Christi.

determined enemies, a sentence of + A bymn in which the orthodox of that suspension, and at last of deposition day delighted, describing the very hands and degradation from his ministerial which created the world as nailed to the functions. cross, would not disgrace some modern It should, however, be observed, collections :

that all this did not pass without 0 Jesu Christe, Gottes sohn, Du schopfer aller Dinge,

strong reprobation from the Council Wahr ist du bas selber mich

of Basle, and from several of the Swiss Mit deiner band bereitet,

Churches. The Convocation pub

lished a laboured defence, in which Ach! schane deine häude an

it had recourse to falsehood and preDurch Welch ich bin formieret;

varication of the lowest description ; Die sind die hände, die fur mich

wbile Wetstein had the satisfaction Mit näglen haben lassen sich of receiving from several of the Swiss Aus holtz des creitzes schlagen, Churches, written disavowals (in Darinnen steht mit deinem blut Mein name angeschreiben.

opposition to the assertion of the | Prolegom. 206.

* Prolegoin. 204.

es,

« PreviousContinue »