« AnteriorContinua »
narration of events, the reception it met with from the most competent judges was so favourable, that the Author was encouraged to undertake a second edition, with considerable improvements and additions. This edition appeared in 1763. In the same year, was also published by Dr. MACKNIGHT, another Performance of great merit, entitled, The Truth of the Gospel History; which had been the fruit of the Author's studies during the interval between the first and second editions of his Harmony. Its object is, to illustrate and confirm, both by arguinent and by appeal to the testimony of ancient authors, what are commonly arranged under the three great titles of the Internal, the Collateral, and the Direct Evidences of the Gospel History.
By these publications, Dr. MACKNIGHT soon obtained a high reputation for theological learning. The University of Edinburgh conferred on him (among the first who obtained that distinction in Scotland) the Degree of Doctor of Divinity; and he was chosen Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in 1769. During the course of the same year, he was translated to the Parochial Charge of Jedburgh; in which he remained about three years, and where he received from his people the most flattering tokens of respect and kindness. In 1772, he was elected one of the Ministers of Edinburgh; a preferment for which he was chiefly indebted to the long continued and steady friendship of the very respectable and highly esteemed family of Kilkerran. His first Charge in Edinburgh was the Parish of Lady Yesters; from which he was translated, in 1778, to the Old Church, where he continued during the remainder of his life.
The lives of the learned commonly offer little else to our curiosity, than the simple record of their studies and writings. This observation, often made, is peculiarly applicable in the present instance.
instance. After he took up his residence in Edinburgh, there were few occurrences in the life of Dr. MACKNIGHT, which can be made the subject of narration. Besides performing the ordinary duties of the pastoral function, a Minister of Edinburgh, in virtue of his office, is much occupied with public meetings on business of various kinds, especially the management of the different charitable Foundations, which have long been the boast of the Capital of Scotland. On these, accordingly, Dr. MACKNIGHT, though he entertained some doubts respecting the good effects of such institutions, bestowed much of his attention ; and his judicious counsels of management, were undoubtedly productive, at that time, of considerable benefit, in maintaining the strictness of their discipline, as well as the purity of their administration. Among other objects of such official care, is the Fund established by Act of Parliament for a Provision to the Widows and Children of Ministers in the Church of Scotland. As one of the Trustees appointed by the Act, he had long taken a leading part in conducting the business of this Charity; and when the growing prosperity of the Fund had paved the way for an increase of its capital, Dr. MACKNIGHT was nominated by the Trustees, along with the celebrated Dr. WEBSTER, (to whose benevolent exertions this valuable institution was much indebted for its establishment) as a Commissioner to solicit a renewal of the Act of Parliament. This accordingly was obtained in 1779; fixing the capital at 100,0001. and making other alterations for the benefit of the Fund. After the death of Dr. WEBSTER, Dr. MACKNIGHT was appointed joint Collector with Sir H. MONCRIEFF WELLWOOD, Bart; a colleague whose great ability and talents for business peculiarly qualified him, as experience has since shewn, for the important office which he still holds, with the highest credit to himself and advantage to the Fund.
The line of conduct which Dr. MACKNIGHT pursued, with regard to the points of Ecclesiastical Policy that have long divided the Members of the Church of Scotland, was different from what might have been presumed, in consequence of the first impressions on these topics, which, it is probable, he had received from his father. But after mature deliberation, with that manliness and self-decision which marked his character, he adopted the principles that were to regulate his future conduct in the Church Courts; and, throughout life, he acted steadily on that system of Ecclesiastical Policy, which, for many years past, has guided the decisions of the General Assembly. At the same time, he firmly resisted whatever appeared to him as any infringement on the constitutional law or practice of the Church; and accordingly, when some of his friends seemed to wish for the abolition of Calls, as an unnecessary form in the settlement of Ministers, he moved and carried a Resolution of the Assembly 1782, (relative to certain overtures on the subject, then under the discussion of the house), “Declaring, That the moderation of a Call in settling Ministers, is agreeable to the immemorial and constitutional practice of this Church ; and that it ought to
be continued :" A resolution which was afterwards converted into a Declaratory Act, and printed as such in the Proceedings of the Assembly for that year.
Of Dr. MACKNIGHT it may in general on this head be recorded, that no member of the Church to which he belonged, ever, perhaps, entertained more just or profound views respecting the great fundamental principles of her constitution and laws, or concerning the nature and distinctive powers of her several judicatories; and that in relation to the business which usually occupies the General Assembly, either in its judicative or in its legislative capacity, he always formed a clear, sound, and decisive judgment. On this account he was often consulted by the leading members of that Court. If he had made the business of the Church a principal object of his attention, it is probable that he would have attained a still more distinguished place in the number of those whose counsels direct the ecclesiastical affairs of Scotland. It happened likewise, that on several important occasions, his professional advice and assistance were of essential service to the Magistrates of Edinburgh, with regard to the ecclesiastical arrangements of the city.
But what chiefly engaged his mind, and occupied his time, after he became a Minister of Edinburgh, was the execution of his last and greatest Work on the Apostolical Epistles; which was published in 1795, in four volumes quarto. Respecting this work it is, perhaps, not unworthy of being told, that it was the result of the unremitting labour of almost thirty years; that notwithstanding his numerous professional avocations, the Author, while composing it, was seldom less than eleven hours every day employed in study; and that before it came to the press, the whole manuscript had been written no less than five times with his own hand.—At the time of publishing The New Translation of the Apostolical Epistles, with a Commentary and Notes,'Dr. MACKNIGHT was highly indebted to the patronage of the Duke of Grafton; and after the Work made its appearance, he received the most honourable testimonies of approbation from many of the Bishops and respectable Dignitaries of the Church of England, as well as from the ablest Divines of all deseriptions.
After the publication of this Work, Dr. MACKNIGHT considered himself as having accomplished the greatest object of his life ; and wishing to enjoy at the end of his days, some relief from the labour of study, he resisted the repeated solicitations
of his friends, who earnestly urged him to undertake the illustration of the book of the Acts, on the same plan which he had so successfully followed in the explaining the other parts of the New Testament.—But soon after this period, from the want of their usual exercise, a sensible decline of his faculties, particularly a failure of his memory, was observed by his family. This fact is a striking instance of the analogy between the powers of the body and those of the mind, both of which suffer by inaction: and it furnishes a useful caution to those who have been long habituated to any regular exertion of mind, against at once desisting entirely from its usual efforts; since the effect, in the course of nature, is not only to create languor, but to hasten the progress of debility and failure.
As yet, however, Dr. MACKNIGHT's bodily vigour seemed to be but little impaired. In early life he was afflicted with frequent headachs. But after he had reached the age of thirty, they seldom returned; and he afforded a singular instance of a sedentary life long continued, with hardly any of those complaints which it usually induces. This uninterrupted enjoyment of health he owed, under Providence, to a naturally robust make, and a constitution of body uncommonly sound and vigorous : along with regular habits of temperance, and of taking exercise, which he did by walking nearly three hours every day.
Having finished the task he had prescribed to himself as an Author, he mingled frequently in the society of his friends, from which at intervals, he had always received much enjoyment; and long retained the same cheerfulness of temper, for which at the hours of relaxation from severe study, he had been remarkable, when in the company of those whom he esteemed. Even after the symptoms of his decline were become visible, his natural sagacity and strength of judgment, as well as his extensive and familiar knowledge of the Scriptures, were still to be discerned in his conversation and public appearances. And so habitual was his anxiety to discharge his duty, that he insisted on officiating for a considerable time after his friends had wished him to withdraw from public labour. It was not, indeed, without much entreaty, that he at last consented to accept the services of an Assistant.
At this period of his life, it was peculiarly fortunate for him, that in Dr. GREIVE, who became his Colleague after the death of Dr. Henry, he found a companion of the most amiable manners, and a friend of distinguished worth and respectability,
from whom he experienced every office of attention and kind
When he was at length no longer able to prosecute his favourite studies, the judicious opinions, and extensive information of his very accomplished and learned Colleague, frequently afforded him in conversation a source of interesting entertainment. These proofs of respect and attachment have laid his family under perpetual obligation; and gratitude forbids, that any account of him should be given to the world, without an acknowledgment of the friendly assiduities which cheered and supported his declining years.
The disease which terminated his life, was the Peripneumonia Notha; occasioned by an incautious exposure to the severity of the weather, about the end of December, 1799. This distemper, in its progress and issue, resisted the ablest and most assiduous efforts of medical skill. During his illness, his mind was composed, tranquil, and resigned; he never complained ; and on the morning of the 13th of January, 1800, he expired without a struggle. As in the course of the preceding night he slept but little, the time was employed in hearing passages from the Psalms and Evangelists, which by his own desire were read to him by one of his family. Thus, having spent his life in illustrating Scripture, and exerted the last efforts of his attention in listening with delight to its precious words of peace to the righteous, he may be truly said to have slept in Jesus.
THE CHARACTER of a man whose life was devoted to a single object of incessant study, can hardly be expected to afford scope for much variety of delineation. Perhaps, the circumstances which have been related, sufficiently indicate its prominent features; and we might leave the consideration of it, with observing that it was strongly marked by vigour, firmness, good sense, and unbending integrity. Yet we shall find, on a nearer inspection, that it is not unworthy of being contemplated more minutely; because it exhibits some traits of professional virtue, on which the mind may, for a little, dwell with pleasure and advantage. Such examples in real life illustrate the excellence of pure religion; and it is with peculiar interest that we read descriptions which make us familiarly acquainted with those who have contributed by their labours, to the instruction or the consolation of mankind.
As a Clergyman, the sentiments and conduct of Dr. MackNIGHT were equally characterized by consistence and propriety.