army of the living God,
To his command we bow;
Part of the host have cross'd the flood.
And part are crossing now."—C. Wesley.
Isaac Watts, a learned and eminent Dissenting minister, was born at Southampton, [England], in the year 1674, of parents who were distinguished by their piety and virtue. He possessed uncommon genius, and gave early proofs of it. He received a very liberal education, which was rendered highly beneficial to him by his own unwearied efforts to improve himself. After the most serious deliberation, he determined to devote his life to the ministry, of the importance of which office he had a deep and awful sense. He laboured very diligently to promote the instruction and happiness of the people under his care; and, by his Christian conduct and amiable disposition, greatly endeared himself to them.
Soon after he had undertaken the pastoral office, his health sustained a severe shock by a painful and dangerous illness, from which he recovered very slowly. But in the year 1712, he was afflicted with a violent fever that entirely broke his constitution, and left such weakness upon his nerves as continued with him, in some measure, to the day of his death.
The virtue of this good man eminently appeared, in the happy state of his mind, under great pains and weakness of body, and in the improvement which he derived from them. Of those seasons of affliction, he says, with a truly elevated mind and thankful heart:—
"I am not afraid to let the world know, that amidst the sinking’s life and nature, Christianity and the Gospel are my support. Amidst all the violence of my distemper, and the tiresome months of it, I thank God I never lost sight of reason or religion, though sometimes I had much difficulty to preserve the machine of animal nature in such order as regularly to exercise either the man or the Christian."
Two or three years before his decease the active and sprightly powers of his nature gradually failed; yet his trust in God, through Jesus the Mediator, remained unshaken to the last. He was heard to say, “I bless God I can lie down with comfort at night, not being solicitous whether I awake in this world or another." And again: "I should be glad to read more; yet not in order to be farther confirmed in the troth of the Christian religion, or in the truth of its promises; for I believe them enough to venture an eternity upon them."
When he was almost worn out, and broken down by his infirmities, he said, in conversation with a friend, "I remember an aged minister used to observe, that 'the most learned and knowing Christians, when they come to die, have only the same plain promises of the Gospel for their support as the common and unlearned;' and so I find it. It is the plain promises of the Gospel that are my support; and, I bless God, they are plain promises, that do not require much labour and pains to understand them."
At times, when he found his spirit tending to impatience, and ready to complain that he could only lead a mere animal life, he would check himself thus: "The business of a Christian is to bear the will of God, as well as to do it. If I were in health, I ought to be doing it; and now it is my duty to bear it. The best thing in obedience is a regard to the will of God; and the way to that is, to have our inclinations and aversions as much mortified as we can."
With so calm and peaceful a mind so blessed and lively a hope, did the resigned servant of Christ wait for his Master's summons. He quietly expired in the seventy-fifth year of his age.
From Death-Bed Scenes, or Dying With and Without Religion... edited by Davis W. Clark. New York: Published by Lane & Scott, 1851.
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