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he would say, " let Him deny them ever so long, yet they will never leave knocking and begging; they will pray and they will wait still, till they receive an answer. Many will pray to God, as prayer is a duty, but few use it as a means to obtain a blessing. Those who come to God in the use of it as a means to obtain what they would have, will pray and not give over; they will expect an answer, and never give over petitioning till they receive it." Such views of prayer would naturally make him fervent and frequent in pouring out his heart before God.
He also expected great results from religious reflection. He conceived that some of the most precious fruits in God's vineyard were the growth of that hallowed season, when the soul contemplates itself as in God's more immediate presence; and he believed that the common unwillingness to engage in that employment was a principal cause why the comforts of God's word were not so much experienced as they might be. "There is a thing," he says, "wondrously wanting amongst us, and that is meditation. If we would give ourselves to it, and go up with Moses to the mount to confer with God, and seriously think of the price of Christ's death, and of the joys of heaven, and the privileges of a christian; if we would frequently meditate on these, we should have these sealing days every day, at least oftener. This hath need to be much pressed upon us; the neglect of this makes lean souls. He who is frequent in that, hath these sealing days often. Couldst thou have a parley with God in private, and have thy heart rejoice with the comforts of another day, even whilst thou art thinking of these things Christ would be in the midst of thee. Many of the saints of God have but little of this, because they spend but few hours in meditation."
When from these sacred and pleasurable occupations the archbishop looked into the world, the state of things which he beheld presented but a gloomy appearance. He mourned over the visionary doctrines of those strange times; he mourned over the fanciful interpretations of prophecy, which were then promulgated as truths of the Bible, the preaching of a dawning millennium, and of miracles that marked its appearing, the universal diffusion of the religion of the tongue, accompanied, as it was too sadly evidenced, with the general absence of the meekness of wisdom and the spirit of love. He deplored " the decay of sound religion and christian piety, which too much prevailed in those days, together with the mighty increase of both spiritual and fleshly wickedness; as heresies and schisms, and unchristian animosities; with debauchery and profaneness, which had so overrun and infected this nation during those times of licentiousness and confusion." For these things he would frequently express his grief, saying, "These are the sad presages of greater miseries that will befal this church and kingdom, and make way for popery, to which our own divisions and wicked lives give the greatest advantage; and at length they will prove a scourge to the nation, if not cause the greatest blow that has been ever given to the reformed churches I"
These forebodings seem to have been strongly impressed upon his mind; and were perhaps not a little confirmed by the assurances sent to him by some friends abroad, with whom he corresponded, that certain English, Scotch, and Irish papists were trained up abroad with a knowledge of the chief points of difference between the Church of England and the multitudinous sects which united for her subversion, that so on their return to this country they might take part against her, by advocating any cause which might seem most likely to do her injury.
And if his fears of a wide diffusion of popery were not afterwards realized by facts, yet too surely had he foreseen that the seeds of some grievous spiritual distemper were being sown in the land; since the wild denunciations and wayward fancies so freely diffused in public and in private, were, as it has been well observed, " making religion, lovely as she is, appear to the vulgar eye absurd and insane, and preparing the way for that fearful reaction which ensued in the days of the second Charles, when men took credit to themselves that they were only profligates and blasphemers, and not enthusiasts and fanatics."
Often, too, in writing to his correspondents, did the archbishop lament the evils of the times. A few months after the execution of the king, he says in his letter to Voss, "I am still alive, if any one can be said to live who, having been spared till times of calamity and wickedness, is daily compelled to be a witness of transactions which his mind dreads to contemplate, and from which it sorrowfully recoils."
His extensive correspondence was one of his greatest pleasures. The topics discussed were deeply interesting to him, and the letters which he received were the continual channels of kindly feelings and sympathies from his learned and pious friends. But as these letters relate principally to subjects which could throw little light upon his character, except as a man of learning and diligent research, we shall confine ourselves to the notice of a very few particulars.
In 1649 and 1650 we find him in correspondence with Dr. Hammond, whose Life is contained in the subsequent pages of this little volume. The subject is principally episcopacy; and the letters betoken a general agreement between them on that point, mutual feelings of respect, and a sincere desire for the success of each other in every good word and work.
A feature of the correspondence which is particularly deserving of notice is the continual expression of wishes, on the part of himself and his friends, for each other's spiritual well-being. The letters often began with "Health in Christ"—" Health from the fountain of health, our Lord Jesus Christ."—While "Unto God's blessing I commend you and your labours"—"I leave you unto the blessed protection of our good God "—" The Lord keep you, prosper your studies, bless your endeavours, and give us grace to conduct us in those ways which lead to happiness" — were the blessings which the charitable and pious in those days desired to have poured down upon their friends.
In the year 1650, archbishop Usher published the first part of his great work, The Annals of the Old Testament, the design of which was to settle, on the best authority, the dates of the several events from the creation down to the destruction of Jerusalem after the death of Christ.
Of the copies of this work which he distributed amongst his friends, one reached the humble abode of the impoverished bishop Hall. This devout man was highly gratified at receiving this token of esteem; he acknowledged the gift in a Latin letter, as was frequently done in those times, and declared that the gift was enhanced by the eminent character of the giver. "I have just received, most venerable prelate," he says, "your precious gift, so well worthy of you, your sacred annals of the Old Testament. So welcome was it, as it had been so anxiously expected, that I at once commenced the perusal of it, and have since been reluctant to read anything else. I am astonished at the proofs of unwearied labours, incredible industry, and deep research, which everywhere present themselves, even to an inattentive reader. But particularly I am surprised at your happy skill in contriving, now that you are continually required to prepare learned discourses, to find intervals of leisure for these severer studies, and the investigation of obscure matters of history, which you seem to rescue from the darkness of remote antiquity. Surely these endowments could only have resulted from a large measure of God's favour, both towards you and his church, for he alone could have conferred so richly these singular gifts of science and languages. Still go on, most excellent prelate, to benefit us, and to add fresh ornaments to your crown of eternal glory ; still give later generations fresh cause to wonder that so great a light should have been bestowed upon so unworthy an age."
In the year 1653, when his sight was very defective, he received a letter of condolence from Dr. Morton, the ejected bishop of Durham. His friend begins by remarking, that "too long silence among friends useth to be the moth and canker of friendship,"—for this cause he writes, rather than for any particular matter which he has to communicate—yet "in earnest," he goes on, "I grieve at heart to hear of your Grace's declination of sight, though it be my own disease, yet so (I thank God) that it is no more, considering mine age." He then laments the evils of the times, and proceeds, " let it be our comfort, my Lord, that in God's good time he will remove us from those vexatious mutabilities. If there were anything in my power which I might contribute as grateful unto your Grace, I would not be wanting. However (according to the mutual obligation between us), I shall still commend your Grace to the protection of the Almighty, to the glory of saving grace