« PreviousContinue »
mainland to the islet, though only a bow-shot wide, was difficult, if not dangerous. They are now connected by a causeway, formed rather for the protection of vessels in the roadstead than for accommodation to the castle.
Bishop's Court, the episcopal residence, situate about one mile north from the village of Kirk Michael, on the road to Ramsay, has nothing palatial about it. It was rebuilt by Wilson, and has been since modernised and improved by the prelates who have so quickly succeeded each other in this see, without interfering with the quiet quaintness of its original character. Surrounded with substantial offices and a thriving homestead, with plenty of wood about it-among which is the elm avenue planted by Wilson-it possesses, perhaps more than any other in the island, the appearance of an English country-gentleman's seat.
Little remains to be told of Kirk Michael church, the parish church of Bishop's Court. It is an unpretending building, but one of the most interesting spots in the island, for there lies all that is mortal of Thomas Wilson, and it was the scene of his constant preaching. At the gateway and in the churchyard five tall upright Runic monuments-covered with inscriptions which, interpreted with some difficulty and not with perfect agreement, show them to mark places of Christian sepulture-form a singular contrast to the surrounding lowlier tombstones. Nevertheless from them the eye wanders instinctively to a plain square tomb, within iron rails, which stands beneath the eastern gable of the former church. A slab of black limestone from the quarries of Poolvash bears the inscription :- Sleeping in Jesus, here lieth the body of Thomas Wilson, D.D., Lord Bishop of this island, who died March 7, 1755, aged 93, in the fifty-eighth year of his consecration. This monument was erected by his son, Thomas Wilson, D.D., a native of this parish, who, in obedience to the express commands of his worthy father, declines giving him the character he so justly deserves. Let the island speak the rest.' Is not the eulogium too modest? May not the Holy Catholic Church throughout the world speak the rest?"
This thought leads to the great question of interest in the life of our Bishop, with which we will conclude, and which we will now proceed to consider. Is he one of our divines who has left an imperishable memory, and has exercised a lasting influence for good on the mind of the English Church?—and if so, what rank does he hold in that 'goodly fellowship?' The first question we have no hesitation in answering in the affirmative. The terms of endearment with which his name is still associated, even in the minds of those who are among the least of his admirers, 'the Vol. 120.-No. 239.
good Bishop Wilson,' and 'the Apostolic Bishop'—names of praise hardly accorded to any other of our divines—seem to point to this. If a king stepped forward from among courtiers in the presence chamber to beg his prayers;' if from admiration for the Island-Bishop a French Prime Minister, who had never seen him, obtained, in time of war, an order that no French privateer should ravage Man; if crowds flocked round him as soon as he arrived in London from the poorest and obscurest of British sees, crying, Bless me, too, my Lord;' if labourers suspended their labours in the fields, as he passed them, to ask his benediction; if they never began their harvest until he began his, persuaded that a larger share of Heaven's blessings rested upon him; if the fastidious Johnson could say of him, in one of the neatest phrases which that great master of the pen ever turned, to think on him with reverence is to agree with the whole Christian world: I hope to look into his books with other purposes than those of criticism, and after their perusal not only to write but to live better;'—he assuredly could have been no ordinary man. He was not, it is true, the type of any religious idea in the Church. He never led a party or identified himself with any particular school. This was forbidden to him by the circumstances of his position, his busy and practical life, and his own retiring disposi tion-retiring, when duty did not call him forth, but firm and uncompromising when it did. Like his own island, he stands alone and apart. Patriarch-like he lived emphatically among his own people.' Yet not the less on that account does is example appear to have influenced the Church at large. He may have brought to the study of his Bible a less capacious intellect and a less accomplished scholarship; but surely man never studied it to better purpose, or exemplified its precepts by a holier life. The very simplicity of his nature preserved him from many rocks against which great geniuses split and go to pieces. As Bishop Horne well says of him, he is the best physician who cures the most patients; and at the last great day may they who value themselves on their language and eloquence give as good an account of their stewardship.' We believe that his teaching and writings are particularly valuable in the present age of sensational religion. His sermons are severely simple, but in them we find, at least, the undiluted Word of God. In these days of head-knowledge, and self-seeking scientific scepticism on the one hand, and fussy melodramatic religion on the other, Wilson will be found to the devout Christian pastor a safe and faithful Mentor-for his is the theology of the heart, and he teaches us by example.
Four great Dissenting bodies had lately influenced English society, and their tenets were spreading far and wide, when Wilson first entered on his episcopate and was in the prime of his manhood -the Presbyterians, the Congregationalists, the Baptists, and the Quakers-to which it must be added that the Bangorian controversy was also rife, and Hoadleyism sending forth its pestilent pamphlets and preachers. In that great upheaving of opinions and unchurching of churches which followed close on the Revolution, what a majesty there is in the spirit in which Wilson resolved to meet them; preaching on, praying on, labouring on, instructing on, undismayed and unmoved by the great intellectual and moral throes around him.
To uproot that harvest of the seed of Puritanism, to quench the libertinism of Versailles morals, and thaw the coldness of Dutch theology, to be a witness against the place-seeking spirit of the age-which had grown to such a head as to justify the rebuke of a Queen to her Bishops so complimentary to Wilson, 'See here, my Lords, is a Bishop who has not come for a translation!'-who stood in the breach like him, not indeed by platform oratory or controversial pen, but by the mightier logic and cloquence of a blameless life? For although, as we shall see presently, his own diocese still remained staunch, under his own fostering rule, to the faith once delivered, he might well entertain doubts of its fidelity after his removal; and experience has shown how many a form of error has since taken root there. Moreover, his comprehensive heart took in the trials of the Church without, and mourned over her sufferings. To keep inviolate, then, the tried paths, to build up his people in their most holy faith, and to present ever before their eyes Scripture, prayer, and a self-denying life, these were the simple principles, but the omnipotent instruments in Wilson's hands, and the secret of his ascendancy. He revived indeed the dying zeal of the Church and the flagging piety of its members; but he revived them not with incense and chasuble, not with genuflexions and ecclesiastical millinery, but with the honest, unaffected piety, the open-handed, large-hearted integrity of a truly Christian life. He carried his churchmanship, as some would say, to an extreme, and perhaps may have over-rated the adjuncts of external worship; still, there was nothing overbearing in his harshest measures. Even those who smarted under them saw that they were directed against things, not persons. His High-Churchmanship was the upraised heart, and the Heavenborne spirit, the lofty aspiration, and the wisdom that is from above.'
He required no adventitious aids to dress religion attractively,
and make Church principles popular; and that they were popular we have his own declaration, that there had not been for many years one Papist, a native, in the island, nor indeed any Dissenters of any denomination, except a family or two of Quakers, unhappily perverted during the late civil war, and some of them had of late been baptized into the Church.' These spiritual masters,' confesses Waldron, speaking of the Manx clergy, are, in a manner idolized by the natives.' But he adds (we grieve to say) a statement which, as a cotemporary of Wilson's, and a resident in the island, he must have known to be untrue, that they 'yet take care to maintain their authority by keeping the laity in the most miserable ignorance.' For he must have known all that Wilson was doing to educate and enlighten, to establish schools, and found libraries. More truly does Miss Strickland describe him when she says that without taking any part in the furious discussions of the day, he bent all the energies of his saintly life to civilize and reclaim a miserable and neglected population by whom he was infinitely beloved.'
He impoverished himself by building churches. The convocations of his clergy were annual. He composed model prayers for his candidates for ordination, and entertained them for a year previous in his house. He only left his diocese twelve times during fifty-eight years. He rejected offers of translation made to him by Queen Anne and George I.
After all, does it not come to this, that the man who exercises the greatest influence, and produces the most lasting impression on the Church, is he who possesses in the largest measure, and can exhibit for the longest period, that which the Church most needs in her hierarchy-a holy and consistent life? Pascal died at thirty-nine, Gustavus Adolphus at thirty-eight, Falkland at thirtyfour. What was their life, indeed, with all its promise, but a vapour that appeareth for a little time?' But to 'endure unto the end' of fourscore years and ten; to persevere through an episcopate of eight-and-fifty years in the untiring service of one's Master; this, while it marks a triumph of Divine grace rarely accorded to the sons of men, must have produced an incalculably larger total of effective good to succeeding generations than it has fallen to the lot of most of our divines to accomplish.
There is something almost melancholy in the last years of the good Bishop. He, of course, long survived all his cotemporaries, and many of whom he was old enough to be the father. Sherlock had gone, and Hewetson, and Finch, the successor of Sherlock at Winwick, and Archbishop Sharp; and Walker, his tried friend and Vicar-General for seventeen years. And last, that rare woman of Christianity who so valued
and honoured him, of whom the portrait of Aspasia by Congreve in the Tattler' was taken for a living likeness; who bailled Sir Godfrey Kneller in his attempt to portray her beautiful features; whom Steele in another number of the 'Tattler' describes as 'the first of the beauteous order of love, whose unaffected freedom and conscious innocence gave her the attendance of the Graces in all her actions;' and to whom Robert Nelson applied the text, Many daughters have done virtuously but thou hast excelled them all '-The Lady Elizabeth Hastings, daughter of Theophilus seventh Earl of Huntingdon.— All this was to be expected, or at all events was not remarkable. But he had also survived all his children except one. He had known only six years of married life, his wife having been taken from him at the early age of thirty-one,—and he had never married again. Even his old servants were all gone or taken before him. Yet, even where this is the case, extreme old age is often enlivened, and is seldom so happy as when enlivened, by the merry faces and mirthful company of children to the third and fourth generation. This was not the case here. No grandchild ever prattled on those kind old knees. Alone, and among strange faces and almost untended, he looked his last on the world, and calmly awaited his change. But strong in the hope of immortality, to him more than perhaps to any of the sons of men might the aged apostle's assurance be without presumption applied, 'He had fought a good fight, he had finished his course, he had kept the faith: thenceforth there was laid up for him a crown of righteousness.'
And now, at last, what were the specks of imperfection which we have noticed but motes in a sunbeam, mere faults in the rich vein of ore. Of the grandeur and beauty of his character, so uncompromising, and yet so gentle; so firm and unyielding, and yet so full of charity; so tenacious of the dignity and authority of his position, and yet so humble and lowly in himself; of his extraordinary beneficence, his unwearied energy, his patient perseverance amidst almost overwhelming difficulties, and the most vexatious embarrassments-'what shall we more say'? If simplicity and pathetic earnestness and watchful sympathy with all men do yet in any degree characterize the teaching and devotion, especially the household devotion, of our clergy and laity; if veneration for the Universal Church and unreserved faith in the Bible do yet in any degree prevail in our popular theology; to him perhaps more than to any single divine of later days, with the single exception of his great cotemporary Bishop Butler, are these good effects owing.'