The Life of Herman WitsiusThe Economy of the Covenants Between God and Man by Herman Witsius
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Herman Witsius (1636-1708)
Arguably known for the best work on Covenant Theology in print (at least in the top 5).
Herman Witsius (1636-1708) was Professor of Divinity in the Universities of Franeker, Utrecht, and Leyden. A brilliant and devout student, he was fluent in Latin, Greek, and Hebrew by the age of fifteen, when he entered the University of Utrecht. He was ordained at twenty-one and served in several pastorates, filling both the pulpit and the academic chair over the course of his life.
This, his magnum opus, is a reflection of some of the most fruitful and mature thinking on federal theology during the seventeenth century, and still holds a preeminent place in our own day.
THE LIFE OF THE AUTHOR
HERMAN WITS (or, as he is commonly called, Witsius) was descended from reputable parents. His father, Nicolaus Wits, was a gentleman universally esteemed by his fellow-citizens at Enkhuysen, to whom he endeared himself by his fidelity, modesty, justice, benevolence, and unaffected piety, in every character he sustained, either in the church or in the city; for in the former he was first a deacon, and afterwards a ruling elder, and treasurer in the latter. His mother was Johanna, a gentlewoman of great piety and prudence, the daughter of Herman Gerhard; who, after many dangers and distresses, obtained a calm and secure settlement in the church at Enkhuysen; where he preached the gospel for upwards of thirty years, with great reputation; and such was the affection he bore to his church, that he rejected the most profitable offers that were made to him.
The parents of our Witsius, having vowed to devote a child to the ministry, did, upon the birth of this son, call him after his grandfather, praying that in Herman, the grandson, might be revived the spirit of the grandfather; and that, endued with equal, if not superior talents, he might imitate his example.
Herman Witsius was born on the 12th of February, 1636, at Enkhuysen, a town of West Friesland; one of the first that threw off the Spanish yoke, asserted their own liberty, and, once enlightened with the truths of the gospel, retained the purity of worship ever after, and in the very worst times of Arminianism, continued, above many, steadfast in the faith. And though it was a place noted for trade and navigation, yet it produced men famous in every branch of literature. So that Witsius, even in his native place, had illustrious patterns to copy after.
The care which these pious parents took of young Witsius during his tender infancy, was not intermitted as he began to grow; for, being still mindful of their vow, they brought him up in a very pious manner, instructing him in the principles and precepts of religion and Christian piety. In his sixth year they sent him to the public school of the town, to learn the rudiments of the Latin tongue; from which, after spending three years, and being advanced to the highest form there, his maternal uncle, Peter Gerhard, a person well skilled in Latin, Greek, Hebrew, and philosophy, took him under his own private and domestic tuition. The uncle, whose principal study had been divinity, disengaged from all public business, and being as fond of his nephew as if he had been his own son, taught him with that assiduity, that before he was fifteen he made no small proficiency in Latin, Greek, Hebrew, and Hebrew, and acquired such knowledge in logic and other parts of philosophy, that, when he was afterwards removed to the university, he could study without a master. At the same time he learned the ethic compendiums of Wallæus and Burgersdicius, with so much care, as to be able to repeat most of the sentences very frequent in Burgersdicius, from the ancients, both Greek and Latin. He also perused his elements of physics, and dipped a little into metaphysical subtleties; and committed to memory most of the theological definitions and distinctions from Wendelin. As his uncle was a man of exemplary piety, and was wont to apply almost to every common occurrence of life some striking passages of both Testaments, which he often repeated, either in Hebrew or Greek, while rising, dressing, walking, studying, or otherwise employed; so, by his example and admonitions, he stirred up his nephew to the same practice. Whence it was, that at those tender years he had rendered familiar to himself many entire passages of the Hebrew and Greek Testament, which he was far from forgetting when more advanced in life.
Being thus formed by a private education, in 1651, and the fifteenth year of his age, it was resolved to send him to some university. Utrecht was pitched upon, being furnished with men very eminent in every branch of literature, with a considerable concourse of students, and an extraordinary strictness of discipline. What principally recommended it, were the famous divines, Gisbert Voetius, Charles Maatsius, and John Hernbeckius, all of them great names, and ornaments in their day. Being therefore received into that university, he was, for metaphysics, put under the direction of Paul Voetius, then professor of philosophy; and being, moreover, much taken with the study of the Oriental languages, he closely attended on the celebrated John Leusden, who taught those languages with incredible dexterity, and under him he construed almost the whole Hebrew text, as also the Commentaries of Solomon Jarchi, Aben Ezra, and Kimchi on Hosea, and the Chaldee Paraphrase of Jonathan on Isaiah, and of Onkelos on a part of the Pentateuch. Moreover, under the same master, he just touched on the mysteries of the Masora, and the barbarous diction of the Talmud; namely, the parts published by John Cocceius, under the title of Sanhedrin and Maccoth, and by Constantine Lempereur, under that of Babha Bathræ; under the same master he learned the elements of the Syriac and Arabic languages; which last, however, he afterwards less cultivated than the others. What proficiency he made in the Hebrew, appeared from a public specimen he gave, at the instigation of Leusden, of a well-written Hebrew oration about the Messias of the Jews and Christians, in 1654. But though giving unremitted attention to those studies, he by no means neglected the study of divinity, to which he knew all the others were only subservient; but in that sublime science he diligently used, as masters, the greatest men, and best acquainted with the sacred scriptures, whose most laudable memory no lapse of time shall ever be able to obliterate; namely, Gisbert Voetius, John Hernbeckius, Gualterus Bruinicus, and Andrew Essenius. By whose instructions, together with his own extraordinary application, and true piety towards God, what proficiency he made, the reader may easily judge for himself. However, he had a mind to see Groningen, to have the benefit of hearing the famous Samuel Maresius; whither he went in 1654, after the summer vacation; chiefly applying to divinity: under whose direction he made exercises in French, by which he gave so much satisfaction to this great man, that notwithstanding his many avocations, he deigned to correct and purge those declamations of Witsius from their solecisms and other improprieties, before they were recited in the college. Having thus spent a year at Groningen, and obtained an honourable testimonial from the theological faculty, he next turned his thoughts to Leyden. But the plague then raging there, he resolved to return to Utrecht, in order to build farther on the foundation he had there so happily laid; and, therefore, he not only carefully heard the professors in divinity at this time, as before, both in public and private, but cultivated a peculiar familiarity with the very reverend Justus van den Bogaerdt, whose piety, prudence, and admirable endowments he had such a value for, that he imagined, perhaps from youthful inexperience, no preacher equal to him. From his sermons, conversation, and example, he learned the deeper mysteries of the kingdom of God, and of mystical and spiritual Christianity. From him he understood how great the difference is between any superficial knowledge, which scholastic exercises, books learnedly written, and a close application, may procure to minds quite destitute of sanctification; and that heavenly wisdom, which is acquired by meditation, prayer, love, familiar converse with God, and by the very relish and experience of spiritual things; which proceeding from the Spirit of God, internally illuminating, convincing, persuading, and sealing, gloriously transforms the whole man to the most holy image of Christ. In a word, he owns, that by means of this holy person he was introduced by the Lord Jesus to his most secret recesses, while before, he too much and too fondly pleased himself in tarrying in the porch; and there, at length, he learned, disclaiming all vain presumption of science, to sit humbly at the feet of the heavenly Master, and receive the kingdom of heaven as a little child. But that it may not be thought he so applied to the formation of his mind to piety, as to neglect for the future all academical studies, the theses he wrote on the Sacred Trinity, against the Jews, from their own writings, may, and ought to be, a proof to the contrary. These he published in the month of October, 1655, to be disputed under the moderation of the famous Leusden; and though they were warmly attacked by the most experienced academicians, yet the moderator thought the respondent acquitted himself so well as to supersede his interposition on any account; and when, according to custom, he returned solemn thanks to the moderator for his trouble, this last very politely and truly made answer, He had stood in no need of his help.
The time now seemed to require, that our Witsius, very famous at two universities, should be employed in the public service of the church, and give, as is usual, specimens of his proficiency. Therefore, in the month of May, 1656, he presented himself at Enkhuysen to a preparatory examination, as it is called, together with his then fellow-student, John Lasdragerus, with whom he had a familiarity from his youth, and whom he afterwards had for his most intimate colleague and faithful fellow-labourer, first in the church of Leovaarden, and then at Utrecht. And upon this occasion he was admitted to preach publicly, which he did with uncommon applause, and gave so general satisfaction, that there was scarce a country church in North Holland, where he then resided, which wanting a minister, did not put his name in the number of the three candidates, from which the election is usually made. And, at the instigation of the reverend John James le Bois, minister of the French church at Utrecht, he ventured, upon leave given, to preach publicly to the French church at Dort, in their language. And from that time he often preached in French, both at Utrecht and Amsterdam; as also sometimes in the course of his ministry at Leovaarden. But because he imagined, there was still something wanting to the elegance of his language, he proposed very soon to take a tour to France, and pay his respects to the great men there, and at the same time have the pleasure of hearing them, and improving in their language.
But Providence disposed otherwise; for, the following year, 1657, and the twenty-first of his age, being lawfully called by the church of West Wouden, he was ordained there on the 8th of July. This village lies almost in the mid-way between Enkhuysen and Horn, and is united with the parish of Binne-Wijsent. And here, for four years and upwards, he laboured with the greatest alacrity of a youthful mind; and with no less benefit: for, by frequent catechising, and with the greatest prudence suiting himself to the catechumens, both boys and girls, they, who before were grossly ignorant, could not only give proper answers on the principal heads of our religion, but prove their assertions by suitable texts of scripture, and repeat a whole sermon distinctly, when examined on it, to the joy as well as shame of their parents and older people. The reputation of so faithful and dexterous a pastor being thus widely spread, the church of Wormer, in the same tract of North Holland, sufficiently numerous and celebrated, but then too much distracted by intestine commotions, imagined they could not pitch upon a fitter guide to allay their heats, and form their minds. This call Witsius not only accepted, passing to that charge in October, 1661, but spent there four years and a half, doing every thing in his power to promote Christian unanimity and the common salvation; and as he saw the extensive fruits of his labours among them, so he was universally beloved. Wherefore he could not bear to remove from them to the people of Sluice in Flanders, who offered him great encouragement to preach; but the people of Goese in Zealand succeeded in their call, and he repaired to them about Whitsuntide, 1666, and was so acceptable to all by his doctrine, manners, and diligence, as to live there in the most agreeable peace and concord, with his learned, pious, and vigilant colleagues, two of whom he revered as his fathers; and the third, who was younger, he loved as his brother. He was much delighted with this settlement, and often wished to grow old in this peaceful retreat. But the people of Leovaarden in West Friesland interrupted these thoughts; who, in November, 1667, called him, with a remarkable affection, to that celebrated metropolis of his native country, that he might prove a shining light, not only in the church, court, and senate of that place, but to all the people of Friesland, who flocked thither from all parts to the assembly of the States; but the people of Goese, doing all they could to hinder his removal, it was April, 1668, before he went to Leovaarden. And it is scarcely to be expressed, with what vigilance, fidelity, and prudence he conducted himself. In a time of such difficulty, when the enemy had made such incursions into Holland, and made themselves masters of most of its towns, and struck a panic into all, a man of such spirit and resolution was absolutely necessary. Nor do I know of any before or since, whose labours were more successful, and who was more acceptable to the church, the nobility, and the court. And therefore he was for some time tutor to Henry Casimir, the most serene prince of Nassau, hereditary governor of Friesland, too untimely snatched away by death; and with remarkable success he instructed, in the doctrines of religion, his most illustrious sister, Amelia, a very religious princess, afterwards married to the duke of Saxe Eisenach; and he presided at the profession of faith, which both princes publicly made, to the great edification of the church, in the presence of the princess mother, Albertina of Orange.
It is not, therefore, to be wondered, that when, through the injury of the most calamitous times, and the decease both of the venerable and aged Christian Schotanus, and of John Melchior Steinbergius, scarce installed in the professorship, the theological interests of the university of Franequer seemed to be fallen to decay; and the extraordinary and truly academical endowments of our Witsius were perfectly well known in Friesland, by an experience of seven whole years; that, I say, he was appointed to the ordinary profession of divinity, in the year 1675, in the academy of his native country, thus happily to be restored. Which opportunity also the church of Franequer prudently laid hold on, being then without a second minister, very cheerfully to commit to him, now appointed professor, that sacred charge. Having, therefore, accepted both these calls, he came to Franequer; and, after being declared doctor of divinity in the academical assembly, by the divine his colleague, he was, on the 15th of April, installed professor of the same; after delivering a solemn oration, with the greatest applause of a concourse of people from all parts; in which he excellently expressed the character of a genuine divine; and as such he soon after demeaned himself, together with the venerable and aged Nicolaus Arnoldus, his most intimate colleague.
In the pulpit Witsius addressed himself with so much gravity, elegance, piety, solidity, and usefulness, that the general inattention of the people was removed, and religious impressions made both on great and small. The academical chair also gained a warmth from his sacred fire, to which, from the different and most distant parts of Europe, the youth, intended for the ministry, resorted in great numbers. And not to be wanting in his duty, or disappoint the intention of those who called him, in any particular, he no sooner entered the university, than, notwithstanding his many daily public and private labours, in both his offices, he set himself to write, and in a very little time published, besides his “Select Academical Disputations,” mostly tending to establish the peace of the church, and a smaller dissertation, two works, pretty large and learned, which went through several editions, and were spread over Europe; being every where read with universal approbation. And besides, there was nothing of extraordinary importance to be transacted against the schismatic followers of Labadie, who had then fixed their principal residence in West Friesland, which both the nobility and the overseers of the church did not think proper should be dispatched by our author.
About this time, Mr. J. Mark, on his return from his studies at Leyden, commenced his acquaintance with Witsius, who recommended him as pastor to the church of Midlumen, between Franequer and Harlingen; and afterwards procured him the degree of doctor in divinity; and, by his interest with his serene highness and others, doctor Mark was appointed third ordinary professor of divinity.
But, the justly renowned character of our Witsius was such, that others, envying the happiness of the people of Friesland, wanted to have the benefit of his labours themselves. This was first attempted by the overseers of the university of Groningen, who, to procure a worthy successor to the deceased James Altingius, as well in the theological and philological chairs, as in the university church, about the close of the year 1679, sent to Franequer a reverend person, to offer the most honourable terms, in order to prevail on Witsius. But that attempt proved unsuccessful. For, communicating the affair to his serene highness the prince, and the other overseers of the university, they protested his services were most acceptable to them, and he excused himself in a handsome manner to the people of Groningen. But those of Utrecht very soon followed the example of Groningen, in the beginning of the year 1680; when, upon the decease of the celebrated Burmannus, they judged it necessary to have a great man, to add to the reputation of their university, and to maintain the ancient piety of their church; and being well assured that none was fitter for all those purposes than Witsius, who was formerly one of their own students, they therefore dispatched a splendid deputation to Franequer, to entreat him to come and be an ornament to their university and church, to which he consented with little difficulty, notwithstanding the opposition made by those of Friesland, who were loth to part with one who had been so useful among them; for his obligations to the university of Utrecht were such, that he thought he could not show his gratitude more than by accepting of their invitation. Accordingly, after a most honourable dismission from the afflicted Frieslanders, he came to Utrecht, and was admitted into the ministry of that church, on the 25th of April, and four days after, into the professorship of the university, after delivering a most elegant oration on the excellence of evangelical truth, which fully answered universal expectation. And it can scarce be expressed, how happily he lived in credit, and laboured above full eighteen years of his most valuable life, with these celebrated men: Peter Maestricht, Melchior Leideckerus, Hermannus, and Halenius, after the example of the doctors his predecessors, whom he always had in the highest veneration. In the ministry he had several colleagues, men of learning, piety, peace, and zeal for God; among whom were his ancient colleagues in the church of Leovaarden Peter Eindhovius, and John Lasdragerus. In the university, besides the forementioned divines, he had not only his own John Leusden, an excellent philologist, but Gerhard de Uries and John Luitsius, famous philosophers, who, for the benefit of the church, prepared the youth intended for the ministry. Before his pulpit he had a Christian magistracy and the whole body of the people, who admired and experienced the power of his elocution, their minds being variously affected with religious impressions. Before his academical and private chair, he had not only a large circle of promising youths from all parts of the world, who admired his most learned, solid, prudent, and eloquent dissertations; but doctors themselves daily resorted in great numbers to learn of him. And therefore, he declined no labour, by which, even at the expence of many restless nights, he might be of service to the university and church. Nor did he think it sufficient by sermons, lectures, conferences, and disputations to produce his useful and various stock of learning, but he exposed his treasures to the whole world, present and to come, in many public and excellent writings, to last for ever, and never to decay, but with the utter extinction of solid learning and true piety itself. And to the commendation of the people of Utrecht be it spoken, that, not only in ecclesiastical assemblies, they always acknowledged his abilities and prudence, seasonably calling him to the highest dignities in synods; but even the nobility, both by deeds and words, testified, that his endowments were perfectly well known to, and highly esteemed of them. And therefore they honoured him twice with the badges of the highest office in their university, in 1686 and in 1697. And we must by no means omit, that when in 1685, a most splendid embassy of the whole united provinces was decreed to be sent to James king of Great Britain, afterwards unhappily drawn aside and ruined by the deceitful arts of the French and Romish party; which embassy was executed by the most illustrious Wassenaar, lord of Duvenvorden, and the ordinary ambassador, his excellency, Citters, with the most noble and illustrious Weed, lord of Dykveld; that, I say, this last easily persuaded his colleagues of legation to employ none but Witsius for their chaplain; a divine whom, to the honour of the Dutch churches, they might present in person to the English nation, without any apprehension, either of offence or contempt. Nor was Witsius himself against the resolution of these illustrious personages, for he went cheerfully, though indisposed in body; and on his return, in a few months after, owned that having conversed with the archbishop of Canterbury, the bishop of London, and with many other divines, both episcopal and dissenters in discipline, he observed not a few things, which made an increase to his stock of learning, and by which he was better qualified to act prudently on all future occasions. And the English, from that time, owned, that being thus better acquainted with Witsius, he ever after justly deserved their regard and applause.
The reputation of Witsius, thus spread all over the world, made the most illustrious overseers of Leyden, with the Burgomasters, resolve to give a call to this great man, in 1698; in order to make up the loss, which was apprehended from the decease of the great Spanhemius, which seemed to be drawing near. And this resolution was approved of by our gracious stadtholder, William III. king of Great Britain, of immortal memory, from that constant piety he entertained towards God, and that equal fidelity and prudence he exercised towards our church and university. Nor was there the least delay, either in determining or executing that call to the professorship of divinity, or in his accepting thereof. For, though the people of Utrecht could have wished otherwise, yet our Witsius had several weighty reasons, why he thought it his duty to comply with the Leyden invitation; judging it was entirely for the interest of the church, equally as for his own, that hereafter exempted from the labours of the pulpit, he might, with the greater freedom, devote the rest of his aged life to the benefit of the university. But especially, as he was made acquainted with his majesty’s pleasure, by the illustrious pensioner Heinsius. And when his majesty admitted him into his royal presence, he signified the satisfaction he had with his accepting the call to the chair of Leyden. He entered on his office the 16th of October, after delivering a very grave and elegant oration, in which he pourtrayed the character of the Modest Divine. And with what fidelity he discharged this office for the space of ten years; and with what assiduity he laboured, with what wisdom and] prudence he taught, with what elegance he spoke, with what alacrity he discoursed in disputations, with what piety he lived, with what sweetness of temper he demeaned himself, with what gracefulness he continued to write, with what lustre he adorned the university, are things so well known to all, as may supersede any particular enlargement.
But he had scarce passed a year at Leyden, when the high and mighty states of Holland and West-Friesland did, on the recommendation of the overseers of the university, in the room of Mark Essius, the piously deceased inspector of their theological college, in which ingenious youths of the republic are reared, for the service of the church, commit the superintendency thereof to our Witsius, as the mildest tutor they could employ for their pupils; without detriment to all the honour and dignity of his professorship, which he enjoyed in conjunction with the celebrated Anthony Hulsius. When he was installed in this new office, the illustrious president of the supreme court of Holland, and overseer of the university, Hubert Roosenboomius, lord of Sgrevelsrecht, did in a most elegant Latin discourse, in the name of all the nobility, not only set forth the praises of the new inspector, but also exhorted all the members of that college to a due veneration for him, and to show him all other becoming marks of respect. Witsius accepted, but with reluctance, this new province; for, had he not judged a submission to the will of the states, and his laying himself out for the service of the church, to be his duty, he would not have complied with it. However, he executed this great charge with the greatest fidelity and care for the advantage of, and with an affection for, his pupils, equally with that of his professorship in the university; till, in the year 1707, on the 8th of February, on account of his advanced age and growing infirmities, he, with great modesty, in the assembly of the Overseers and Burgomasters, notwithstanding all their remonstrances and entreaties to the contrary, both in public and private, and all the great emoluments arising therefrom to himself, resigned this other office; being at the same time also discharged, at his own desire, from the public exercises of his professorship in the university; for executing which in the old manner his strength of body was scarce any longer sufficient; the vigour of his mind continued still unaltered, but as he often declared, he had much rather desist from the work than flag in it.
And it is not to be thought, that Witsius would have been equal to so many and great labours, and the church and university have enjoyed so many and great benefits by him, had he not found at home the most powerful cordials and supports; particularly in the choicest and most beloved of wives, Aletta van Borkhorn, the daughter of Wesselvan Borkhorn, a citizen and merchant of good character, at Utrecht, and a worthy elder of the church, and of Martina van Ysen, whom he married in the middle of the summer of 1660, after three years spent in the sacred ministry. She was eminent for meekness, and every civil and religious virtue; she loved [and honoured her husband in an uncommon degree; with her he lived in the greatest harmony and complacency, about four and twenty years, in North-Holland, Zealand, Friesland, and at Utrecht; and at length, in the year 1684, after many great and long infirmities of body, she was taken from him by a truly Christian death. He was no less happy in his offspring, especially in three surviving daughters, Martina, Johanna, and Petronella, who were endued with every accomplishment that can adorn the sex, but especially in their duty and affection to their father, which they showed, not only before, but more especially after the death of their mother.
From what has been said, the admirable endowments and virtues of this man may sufficiently appear. How great was the force of his genius in apprehending, investigating and illustrating, even the most abstruse subjects; the accuracy of his judgment in distinguishing, determining, and arranging them; the tenacity of his memory in retaining and recollecting them; what readiness of the most charming eloquence in explaining, inculcating, and urging them home, were well known to those who ever saw or heard him. Nor was his gracefulness in a Latin style, as is most apparent from all he wrote and said, less than his readiness in the Dutch; in which, discoursing from the pulpit, with a peculiar decency of gesture and voice, he ravished the minds of the faithful to a holy assent, and unbelievers and the vicious themselves he filled with astonishment, shame, and terror. There was no branch of learning, necessary to adorn a divine, in which he did not greatly excel. He so increased his knowledge of philosophy, when at the university, that none of the quirks or sophisms of infidels could ensnare him, nor any artifice induce him to make shipwreck of the faith, or embrace or encourage any of the errors of the times. He was master of the whole compass of sacred philology, Greek and Hebrew; he was well acquainted with the elegancies of profane literature, Latin, Greek, and Oriental; skilfully borrowing from thence whatever might serve to explain, in a becoming manner, the sacred Scriptures; prudently avoiding every extreme. He was perfectly well skilled in history, both ancient and modern, ecclesiastical and civil, Jewish and Christian, domestic and foreign; and from it he always selected, with the greatest care, what might principally be of present use. He thoroughly learned divinity in all its branches, being as expert in the confirmation and vindication of doctrines, and in showing their connexion, as in confuting errors, discovering their origin, and distinguishing their importance. Above all, he was in love with, revered, and commended the Holy Scriptures, as that from which alone true wisdom is to be derived; and which, by long practice, he had rendered so very familiar to himself, as not only to have the original words upon all occasions very readily at command, but to be able directly, without hesitation, to explain the most difficult. Nor did he, in this case, rest on any man’s authority; most rightly judging such a conduct to be inconsistent with the divine glory of the Christian faith, declaring and demeaning himself the most obsequious disciple of the Holy Spirit alone. Hence he had neither a disdain for old, and an itch for new things; nor an aversion to new, and a mad and indolent fondness for old things. He would neither be constrained by others, nor constrain any one himself; being taught neither to follow nor to form a party. That golden saying pleased him much: “Unanimity in things necessary, liberty in things not necessary, and in all things prudence and charity;” which he professed was his common creed. Nor can we have the least doubt of his zeal for the “faith once delivered to the saints,” and for true piety towards God, which he expressed in his writings, when at Leovaarden and Franequer, against some dangerous opinions then starting up both in divinity and philosophy; of which also he gave a proof at Utrecht and Leyden, when publicly testifying in writing, that he could not bear the authority of reason to be so extolled above Scripture, as that this last should be entirely subject to its command, or be overturned by ludicrous interpretations. His zeal, in his latter days, was greatly inflamed when he observed all ecclesiastical discipline against those who would overthrow the Christian faith, and even right reason itself, publicly trampled upon under the most idle pretences, and every thing almost given up to a depraved reason, to the subverting the foundations of Christianity, while some, indeed, mourned in secret, but were forced to be silent; and therefore he declared his joy at his approaching dissolution, on account of the evils he foresaw were hanging over the church, and often called on those who should survive, to tremble when the adversary was thus triumphing over the doctrines of salvation and all true piety, to the destruction both of church and state by men whom it least became, and who still artfully dissembled a regard for religion, and for ecclesiastical and civil constitutions, unless God, in his wonderful providence, averted the calamity, and more powerfully stirred up the zeal of our superiors against Atheism, Pelagianism, and their latent seeds. I do not speak of those smaller differences in the method of ranging theological matters observable for some time past in the modes of expression. All are well apprised with what equity and moderation Witsius ever treated these differences in opinion, and if ever any was inclined to unanimity and concord with real brethren, he was the man who never did any thing to interrupt it; but every thing either to establish or restore it, and to remove all seeds of dissention. This is that to which the genuine Christianity he had imbibed prompted him, and what the singular meekness of his temper inspired; by which he was ready to give way to the rashly angry, and either made no answer to injurious railers, or repaid them even with those ample encomiums which, in other respects, they might deserve. Thus lived our venerable Witsius, giving uneasiness to none, but the greatest pleasure to all with whom he had any connexion, and was not easily exceeded by any in offices of humanity and brotherly love. There was at the same time in him a certain wonderful conjunction of religious and civil prudence, consummated and confirmed by long experience, with an unfeigned candour. Neither was any equal to him for diligence in the duties of his office, being always most ready to do every thing by which he could be serviceable to the flocks and pupils under his care, for the benefit of the church. He did not withdraw from them in old age itself, nor during his indisposition indulge himself too much. His modesty was quite singular, by which he not only always behaved with that deep concern in treating the Holy Scriptures and its mysteries, but also, by which he scarce ever pleased himself, in the things he most happily wrote and said: and when his best friends justly commended his performances, he even suspected their sincerity. Nor could any under adversities be more content with his lot, even publicly declaring at Utrecht, that he would not exchange his place in the university and church, either with the royal or imperial dignity. And to other virtues, or rather in the compass of one to comprise all; he was not in appearance, but in reality, a true divine, ever covering his heavenly wisdom by a sincere piety towards and his Saviour. For he was constant in the public acts of worship, unwearied in the domestic exercises of piety, giving, in this, an example for the imitation of others in the fear of the Lord, incessantly taken up in heavenly meditation, and instant in prayer, both stated and ejaculatory; in fine, his cheif care was, by avoiding evil and doing good, to demean himself both towards God and man, as became one who had obtained redemption through Christ, and, by divine grace, the hope of a blessed eternity in heaven; which he constantly panted after, with the utmost contempt for the things in the world.
His writings are numerous, learned, and useful: in 1660, almost at his entrance on the ministry, he published his Judaus Christianizans, on the principles of faith, and on the Holy Trinity. When at Wormer, he put out in Low-Dutch, 1665, The Practice of Christianity, with the spiritual characters of the unregenerate, with respect to what is commendable in them; and of the regenerate, as to what is blameable and wants correction. At Leovaarden, he gave also in Low-Dutch, The Lord’s Controversy with his Vineyard, and at the same time, briskly defended it against opponents. Of his Franequer labours we have, besides smaller works, afterwards comprised in larger volumes, his Œeonomia fœderum Dei cum hominibus, translated into Low-Dutch by Harlingius; and his Exercitationes sacræ Symbolum Apostoloram, translated also into Low-Dutch, by Costerus. At Utrecht, came out his Exercitationes Sacræ in orationem dominicam; his Ægyptiaca and Decaphylon, with a dissertation on the Legio fulminatrix Christianorum; and the first volume of his Miscellania Sacra, and a good deal of the second, besides some smaller works also. And at Leyden, he published at last the second volume of his Miscellania Sacra, complete; and at this last place he set on foot what he calls his Meletemeta Leidensia, to be occasionally enlarged with a number of select dissertations. Indeed, all these writings are justly in great repute, their style being polite, the subjects useful, and the whole replenished with various branches of learning and a beautiful strain of piety, all which may deservedly commend them to the latest posterity.
He had been often, formerly, afflicted with racking and painful diseases; whence sometimes arose the greater apprehension of a far earlier departure by death. And nothing, under divine providence, but his vigour of mind, joined to his piety, could have preserved him so long to the world; and that with so perfect an use of his senses, that not long before his death he could read, without hesitation, the smallest Greek characters by moon-light, which none besides himself could do. But with his advanced years he sometimes had cruel fits of the gout, and stone in the kidneys; and once in the chair, in the midst of a lecture, a slight touch of an apoplexy. These disorders were, indeed, mitigated by the skill of the famous doctor Frederic Deckers; but now and then, by slight attacks, threatened a return; for his wavering and languishing state of health, indicating the past disorders not to be entirely extirpated, gave apprehensions of a future fatal distemper, which was occasioned by the sudden attack of a fever on the evening of the 18th of October. This fever, though very soon removed, left his body exceeding weak, and his mind in a state of lethargy, an indication that his head was affected. The good man himself, considering these symptoms, with great constancy and calmness of mind, told the physician and his other friends then present, that they could not fail to prove mortal. Nor did the slightness of the disease make any change in his opinion as to its fatal issue; while he foresaw that the consequences of an advanced age, and of the greatest weakness, could admit of no other event. Nor indeed without cause; for his senses were gradually weakened by repeated slumbers; however, about his last hour, he sensibly signified to Doctor Marck, who attended him, his blessed hope, and his heavenly desires, as he had frequently done before; and then about noon, on the 22nd of October, 1708, he sweetly departed this life, in the 73rd year of his age, and entered into the joy of his Lord.