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by William Symington
An extract from the Life and Character of Charnock
The correctness of the composition, in these works, is remarkable, considering that they were not prepared for the press by the author himself, and that they must have been originally written amid scenes of distraction and turmoil, arising out of the events of the times. The latter circumstance may account for the manly vigor by which they are characterized, but it only renders their accuracy and polish the more wonderful. Refinement of taste and extensive scholarship can alone explain the chasteness, ease, and elegance of style, so free from all verbosity and clumsiness, which mark these productions. There were giants in literature in those days, and STEPHEN CHARNOCK was not the least of the noble fraternity.
Charnock may not have all the brilliancy of Bunyan, nor all the metaphysical acumen and subtle analysis of Howe, nor all the awful earnestness of Baxter; but he is not less argumentative, while he is more theological than any of them, and his theology, too, is more sound than that of some. "He was not," say the original editors of his works, "for that modern divinity which is so much in vogue with some, who would be counted the only sound divines; having tasted the old, he did not desire the new, but said the old is better." There is, therefore, not one of all the Puritan Divines whose writings can with more safety be recommended to the attention of students of divinity and young ministers. It is one of the happy signs of the times in which we live, that a taste for reading such works is beginning to revive; and we can conceive no better wish for the interests of mankind in general, and of our country in particular, than that the minds of our young divines were thoroughly impregnated with the good old theology to be found in such writings as those which we now take the liberty to introduce and recommend. "If a preacher wishes to recommend himself by the weight of his doctrines," to use the language of Mr Parsons, "he will find in the writings of Charnock the great truths of Scripture illustrated and explained in the most lucid and masterly manner. If he wishes to be distinguished by the evangelical strain of his discourses, and by the continual exhibition of Christ and him crucified, he will here find the characters of Christ, and the adaptation of the gospel to the circumstances and wants of man as a fallen creature, invariably kept in view. If he wishes for usefulness in the Church of God, here he has the brightest example of forcible appeals to the conscience, and of the most impressive applications of Scripture truth, to the various conditions of mankind. And, finally, if he reads for his own advantage as a Christian, his mind will be delighted with the inexhaustible variety here provided for the employment of his enlightened faculties, and his improvement in every divine attainment."
We cannot resist giving a few sentences from the original preface which his friends Adams and Veal prefixed
to the treatise On the Existence and Attributes of God. "The
sublimeness, variety, and rareness," say they, "of the
truths handled, together with the elegance of the composure, neatness
of the style, and whatever is wont to make any book desirable,
all concur in the recommendation of it.....It is not a book to
be played with or slept over, but read with the most intense
and serious mind; for, though it afford much pleasure for the
fancy, yet much more work for the heart, and hath indeed in it
enough to busy all the faculties. The dress is complete and decent,
yet not garish nor theatrical; the rhetoric masculine and vigorous,
such as became a pulpit, and was never borrowed from the stage.
The expressions full, clear, apt, and such as are best suited
to the weightiness and spirituality of the truths here delivered.
Index to Stephen Charnock
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