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LAST DAYS OF DR. JOHNSON.
Few questions have been more frequently agitated on the subject of religion than that recorded in the book of Job, “ How can man be justified with God ?” And although the words immediately following it,—“ How can he be clean that is born of a woman ?” -seem to point to the answer ; yet, it is truly surprising to observe, how varied and how contradictory have been the replies to it. The proud and haughty atheist, though surrounded by evidence of the work of a Divine Architect on every side—the heavens declaring his glory, and the earth teeming with his benevolence-troubles not himself about it, nor deigns to bestow the slightest consideration upon the subject.
The somewhat more enlightened deist entangles himself in the bewildered workings of his own deluded imagination, and, in the awfully presumptuous language of one eminent in this school, ventures to thank God that he can, when death arrives, return into his hands a soul pure as when it proceeded from him; or enters the eternal world reckless and heedless as to all its hopes
Others there are, who, professing to believe nothing which they cannot comprehend, proceed a step farther; and, behold, in the brightness of the Father's glory, and the express image of his person,” a mere created being, by observing whose precepts, and following whose example, they think they can save their own souls; and thus, rejecting his Godhead and atonement, they “crucify the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame.”
Besides these, there are others, who, theoretically admitting the divinity and atonement of Christ, yet so far, for all saving purposes renounce and reject them, as to believe, that through what Christ has done, a new and remedial law has been provided ; and that, by a mixture of what has been done for them, and what they can do for themselves, combined with certain obseryances of a sacramental character, God will accept their imperfect, if sincere, obedience, and make it the ground of final salvation.
Eminently conspicuous amongst those who have once embraced the last of these delusions, is the illustrious Dr. Samuel Johnson, than whom, in any age or country, few individuals have attained a higher eminence, or have been, on many accounts, more justly entitled to it; but who, through a long life, was led to rest upon his moral conduct, and what is termed a well-spent life, as the ground of his salvation ; till, at the last, it pleased God, by his awakening grace, to convince him of the fallacy of such a dependance, and to influence him to look for salvation to the only sure refuge—the blood and righteousness of a crucified Saviour. It may not be unprofitable to mark the progress of the important change which took place in his mind, and to point out the manner in which, after the Spirit of God was vouchsafed to him, he estimated the views and opinions of his former life.
Of the general character of this well-known individual, it is not necessary to say much. To a mind naturally of the most vigorous and powerful character, he added a matured judgment, and habits of deep and sound reflection-untiring in his researches after what he considered truth, and bold and fearless in the acknowledgment of it. This latter feature of his mind was especially manifested in its bearing on the great subject of what he deemed to be religion. The well-attested fact of his standing, late in life, for an hour bareheaded in the market-place of a town in his native county, in the midst of a heavy shower of rain, to make expiation, as he termed it, for an act of filial disobedience committed many years before, though strangely evincing the obscurity of his views on the great subject of religion, yet fully proves, that, in the performance of what he considered a religious act, no fear of man, nor regard to consequences, could influence his mind.
But there are other ways in which, in its bearing on the foregoing remark, it is important to look at the character of this distinguished individual. The general deportment of his life, and the weight of his personal example, were on the side of morals and religion. It is recorded of him, that when the distinguished foreigner, the Abbé Raynal, was first introduced to him, upon the Abbé's advancing to take his hand, he drew back, and afterwards replied to the remonstrance of a friend, “ Sir, I will not shake hands with an infidel.” His attendance on the public services of religion, both on the Lord's day and at the Lord's table ; his private and personal acts of devotion, combined with his recorded sentiments of a devotional character, evince also his regard for the subject; while the whole of his writings connected with it, in a greater or less degree, manifest his desire of promoting morality, and advancing what he supposed to be the interests of religion.
Through the rich mercy of God, however, the period arrived, in the last moments of this distinguished man, in which it was made clear to his mind, not only that the foundation on which he had long been resting was an insufficient one, but also that a “better hope" is provided, by which God can“ be just, and at the
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same time the justifier of every one that believeth in Jesus,” and the gospel become “the power of God unto the soul's salvation.”
The first symptoms which gave the intimation that his life, which had then reached an advanced period, was drawing to a close, appeared not very long before his decease. Johnson anticipated the approaching crisis, and, with a mind still unclouded and vigorous, anxiously reviewing the past, and anticipating the future, was filled with apprehension and alarm. The prospect of death, which was now, he said, at no great distance from him, was become terrible, and he could not think of it but with great pain and trouble of mind. He was reminded by those around him of his past moral conduct, of the uniform course of virtue which he had pursued, and of the services rendered by his example and writings to the cause of morality and religion. But what was the reply of Johnson to all this? His biographer (Hawkins) will answer the question :-“In the estimation of his offences, he reasoned thus: 'Every man knows his own sins, and what grace he has resisted ; but to those of others, and the circumstances under which they were committed, he is a stranger. He is therefore to look on himself as the greatest sinner he knows of;' adding, with much earnestness, Shall I, who have been a teacher of others, be myself a castaway
!'” The mind of the sufferer, as his symptoms of danger increased, became more alarmed and agitated. It was under these circumstances, that he ex ed a desire to see
gyman, particularly describing the views and character of the one whom he wished to consult. It so happened that the one selected for the interview was unable, from severe indisposition, to attend. He therefore committed to writing, what, from his knowledge of the circumstances, he considered it probable he should say to Johnson, if present; and, in so doing, after reviewing what he supposed to be the workings of his mind, he added, " I say you in the language of the Baptist, · Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away
the sins of the world !'” When Sir John Hawkins came to this part of the letter, Johnson interrupted him, anxiously asking, “ Does he say so ? Read it again, Sir John.” Sir John complied : on which Johnson said, “I must see that man; write to him again.” A second letter, however, for the reason already mentioned, was not more successful ; in consequence of which, another individual, whose views on the great doctrines of Christianity were similar, was sent for ; through whose instrumentality it pleased God to carry on the work already begun in Johnson's soul. Convictions of sin were followed by no less powerful and abiding convictions of the power and willingness of Christ
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to save him from it.
The deep views which were afforded to him of his utterly lost and hopeless condition, prepared his mind for that right understanding of the gospel, under which, there is reason to conclude, he found Christ crucified to be the “end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth;" “ Christ the wisdom of God and the power of God;" and, having been led to cry out, “What must I do to be saved ?”—by which he discovered the only true and scriptural answer—“ Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved.” However little those around him could appreciate the nature of so great a change, or understand its cause, they fully testify the fact of its occurrence. “ For some time before his death,” says Sir John Hawkins, speaking on the testimony of Dr. Brocklesby, “ all his fears were calmed and absorbed by the prevalence of his faith, and his trust in the merits and propitiation of Jesus Christ. He alk to me often about the necessity of faith the sacrifice of Jesus, as necessary beyond all good works whatever, for the salvation of mankind.” The result of this spiritual change in the mind of Johnson was such as might reasonably be expected, producing in him feelings of deep humiliation before God, and an anxious concern for the salvation of others, and presenting every thing connected with his soul's interests in a new light. For Dr. Brocklesby, the physician, who most kindly and watchfully attended him to the last, but of the correctness of whose religious opinions, now that his own mind had become enlightened, he had painful apprehensions, he felt great anxiety. “ Doctor,” he said, “ you are a worthy man and my friend, but I am afraid you are not a Christian ! What can I do better for you than offer up, in your presence, a prayer to the great God that you may become a Christian in my sense of the word ?”
He afterwards said, “ My dear doctor, believe a dying man, there is no salvation but in the sacrifice of the Lamb of God. Go home ; write down my prayer, and every word of it, and bring it to me to-morrow.' He talked of his death and funeral at times with great composure, and prayed that God would pardon his “ late conversion ;” and, almost with his expiring breath, recorded this, his dying testimony :-“I offer up my soul to the great and merciful God: I offer it full of poilution, but in full assurance that it will be cleansed in the blood of my
Re. deemer ;” and, as it has been well remarked of him by one who for many years enjoyed his confidence, and who was no incompetent judge of such a case, “ No action of his life became him like leaving it.”*
For the foregoing particulars, see Life by Sir John Hawkins, Life by Boswell, and Roberts' Life of Hannah More.
Such were the last moments of Dr. Johnson; and such the workings of his mind in the prospect of that solemn and important change which he is stated so feelingly to have alluded to not long before it occurred, in the very expressive words, jam moriturus. It was evident that a most decided change in his spiritual hopes and prospects did occur ; that the ground of confidence on which he had long rested—his outward morality and ceremonial regard for religion-altogether failed him; and that he was brought to experience, that nothing short of a personal interest in the Great Sacrifice, offered up for the sins of the world, was sufficient to support him in the conflict with the king of terrors, and to give him the hopes which his agitated mind required. In whatever light the circumstances be viewed, they must conduct the candid reader to this conclusion, and by consequence to another, not less obvious, viz.—that the same change which occurred in Dr. Johnson, and the same grace which was sought by him, are equally needed by others. It is not vigour of understanding, extent of reading, even on theological subjects, correctness of moral deportment, attention to the externals of religion, strict adherence to forms and modes of worship, or even zealous defence of them in conversation or in print, that can bring peace at the last. Multitudes, in various ages, and in varying degrees, have made the trial of these, and have detected their fallacy. The Word of God throughout declares, that “there is no other name under heaven given among men whereby we can be saved,” (Acts iv. 12) than the name of the Lord Jesus; and that, being justified by faith, we have peace through Him. It is well observed in the eleventh article of the Church of England, “Wherefore, that we are justified by faith only is a most wholesome doctrine, and very full of comfort." No attachment to any particular religious communion—no compliance with external rules and ceremonies —no regular and apparently devout attendance on appointed services and ordinances—can secure the peace which the soul requires in immediate anticipation of appearing before God. Johnson was very conscientiously attached to the Church of England, in connexion with which he had been educated, and had spent his life. He was constant in his attendance on its services, and regular at the Lord's table; but yet, when the time of trial canie, and the prospect of death was near at hand, he discovered that this ground of confidence alone was an inšufficient one, and in his own emphatic language declared, that there is no salvation but in the sacrifice of the Lamb of God.
In looking at the circumstances of this case, we perceive a striking illustration of the utter insufficiency of the unaided