Whichcote, Benjamin

, an English divine of great name, was descended of an ancient and good family in the county of Salop, and was the sixth son of Christopher Whichcote, esq. at Whichcote-hall in the parish of Stoke, where he was born March 11, 1609-10. He was admitted of Emanuel-college, Cambridge, in 1626, and took the degrees in arts: that of bachelor in 1629; and that of master in 1633. The same year, 1633, he was elected fellow of the college, and became a most excellent tutor; many of his pupils, as Wallis, Smith, Worthington, Cra,­dock, &c. becoming afterwards men of great eminence. Jn 1636 he was ordained both deacon and priest at Buckden by Williams bishop of Lincoln; and soon after set up an afternoon-lecture on Sundays in Trinity church at Cambridge, which, archbishop Tillotson says, he served near twenty years. He was also appointed one of the university-preachers; and, in 1643, was presented by the master and fellows of his college to the living of North-Cadbury in Somersetshire. This vacated his fellowship; and upon this, it is presumed, he married, and went to his living; but was soon called back to Cambridge, being appointed to succeed the ejected provost of King’s-college, Dr. Samuel Collins, who had been in that office thirty years, and was also regius professor of divinity. This choice was perfectly agreeable to Dr. Collins himself; though not so to Dr. Whichcote, who had scruples about | Accepting what was thus irregularly offered him: however, after some demurring, he complied, and was admitted pro-r vost, March 16, 1644. He had taken his bachelor of divinity’s degree in 1640; and he took his doctor’s in 1649. He now resigned his Somersetshire living, and was presented by his college to the rectory of Milton in Cambridgeshire, which was void by the death of Dr. Collins. Jt must be remembered, to Dr. Whichcote’s honour, that, during the life of Dr. Collins, one of the two shares out of the common dividend allotted to the provost was, not only with Dr. Whichcote’s consent, but at his motion, paid punctually to him, as if he had still been provost. Dr. Whichcote held Milton as long as he lived; though, after the Restoration, he thought proper to resign, and resume it by a fresh presentation from the college. He still continued to attend his lecture at Trinity, church with the same view that he had at first set it up; which was, to preserve and propagate a spirit of sober piety and rational religion in the university of Cambridge, in opposition to the style of preaching, and doctrines then in vogue: and he may be said to have founded the school at which many eminent (divines after the Restoration, and Tillotson among them, who had received their education at Cambridge, were formed, and were afterwards distinguished from the more orthodox by the epithet latitudinarian. In 1658 he wrote verses upon the death of Oliver Cromwell, which, his biographer supposes, were done entirely out of form, and not put of any regard to the person of the protector. Nor had Dr. Whichcote ever concurred with the violent measures of those times by signing the covenant, or by any injurious sayings or actions to the prejudice of any man. At the Restoration, however, he was removed from his provostship by especial order from the king; but yet he was not disgraced or frowned upon. On the contrary, he went to London, and in 1662 was chosen minister of St. Anne’s, Blackfriars, where he continued till his church was burned down in the dreadful fire of 1666. He then retired to Milton for a while; but was again called up, and presented by the crown to the vicarage of St. Lawrence Jewry, vacant by the promotion of Dr. VVilkins to the see of Chester. During the building of this church, upon invitation of the court of aldermen, in the mayoralty of sir William Turner, he preached before the corporation at Guildhall chapel, with great approbation, for about seven years. | When St. Lawrence’s was rebuilt, he preached there twice a week, and had the general love and respect of his parish, and a very considerable audience, though not numerous, owing to the weakness of his voice in his declining age. A little before Easter in 1683, he went down to Cambridge; where, upon taking cold, he fell into a distemper, which in a few days put an end to his life. He died at the house of his ancient and learned friend Dr. Cuclworth, master of Christ’s-college, in May 1683 and was interred in the church of St. Lawrence Jewry. Dr. Tillotson, then lecturer there, preached his funeral-sermon, where his character is drawn to great advantage. Burnet speaks of him in the following terms: “He was a man of a rare temper; very mild and obliging. He had credit with somewhat had been eminent in the late times; but made all the use he could of it to protect good men of all persuasions. He was much for liberty of conscience; and, being disgusted with the dry systematical way of those times, he studied to raise those who conversed with him to a nobler set of thoughts, and to consider religion as a seed of a deiform nature (to use one of his own phrases) .*


Dr. Whichcote, in common conversation and on the most common occasions, dealt much in pompous compound words. One day seeing two boys fighting in the street, he went up and parted them, exclaiming, “What; moral entities, and yet pugnacious!

In order to this, he set young students much on reading the ancient philosophers, chiefly Plato, Tully, and Piotin; and on considering the Christian religion as a doctrine sent from God, both to elevate and sweeten human nature, in which he was a great example as well as a wise and kind instructor. Cudworth carried this on with a great strength of genius, as well as a vast compass of learning.” Baxter numbers him with “the best and ablest of the conformists.

But his character is drawn most at length by Tillotson in his funeral sermon. “I shall not,” says Tillotson, “insist upon his exemplary piety and devotion towards God, of which his whole life was one continued testimony. Nor will I praise his profound learning, for which he was justly had in so great reputation. The moral improvements of his mind, a god-like temper and disposition‘ (as he was wont to call it), he chiefly valued and aspired after; that universal charity and goodness, which he did continually preach and practise. His conversation was exceeding kind and affable, grave and winning, prudent and profitable. | He was slow to declare his judgment, and modest in delivering it. Never passionate, never peremptory; so Car from imposing upon others, that he was rather apt to yield. And though he had a most profound and well-poised judgment, yet he was of all men I ever knew the most patient to hear others differ from him, and the most easy to be convinced, when good reason was offered; and, which is seldom seen, more apt to be favourable to another man’s reason than his own. Studious and inquisitive men commonly at such an age (at forty or fifty at the utmost) have fixed and settled their judgments in most points, and as it were made their last understanding; supposing that they have thought, or read, or heard what can be said on all sides of things; and after that they grow positive and impatient of contradiction, thinking it a disparagement to them to alter their judgment. But our deceased friend was so wise, as to be willing to learn to the last, knowing that no man can grow wiser without some change of his mind, without gaining some knowledge which he had not, or correcting some error which he had before. He had attained so perfect a mastery of his passions, that for the latter and greatest part of his life he was hardly ever seen to be transported with anger; and as he was extremely careful not to provoke any man, so not to be provoked by any, using to say `If I provoke a man, he is the worse for my company; and if I suffer myself to be provoked by hira, I shall be the worse for his.‘ He very seldom reproved any person in company otherwise than by silence, or some sign of uneasiness, or some very soft and gentle word; which yet from the respect men generally bore to him did often prove effectual. For he unr derstood human nature very well, and how to apply himself to it in the most easy and effectual ways. He was a great encourager and kind director of young divines, and one of the most candid hearers of sermons, I think, that ever was; so that though all men did mightily reverence his judgment, yet no man had reason to fear his censure. He never spake of himself, nor ill of others, making good that saying of Pansa in Tully, ’ Netninem alterius, qui suae confideret virtuti, invidere,’ that no man is apt to envy the worth and virtues of another, that hath any of his own to trust to. In a word, he had all those virtues, and in a high degree, which an excellent temper, great condescension, long care and watchfulness over himself, together | with the assistance of God’s grace (which he continually implored and mightily relied upon) are apt to produce. Particularly he excelled in the virtues of conversation, humanity, and gentleness, and humility, a prudent and peaceable and reconciling temper.” Tillotson likewise informs us that as he had a plentiful estate, so he was of a very charitable disposition; which yet was not so - well known to many, because in the disposal of his charity he very much affected secrecy. He frequently bestowed his alms on poor house-keepers, disabled by age or sickness to support themselves, thinking those to bethe most proper objects of it. He was rather frugal in expence upon himself, that so he might have wherewithal to relieve the necessities of others. And he was not only charitable in his life, but in a very bountiful manner at his death, bequeathing in pious and charitable legacies to the value of a thousand pounds: to the library of the university of Cambridge fifty pounds, and of King’s college one hundred pounds, and of Emanuel college twenty pounds; to which college he had been a considerable benefactor before, having founded three several scholarships there to the value of a thousand pounds, out of a chanty with the disposal whereof he was intrusted, and which not without great difficulty and pains he at last received. To the poor of the several places, where his estate lay, and where he had been minister, he gave above one hundre4 pounds. Among those, who had been his servants, or were so at his death, he disposed in annuities and legacies in money to tlje value of above three hundred pounds. To other charitable uses, and among his poor relations, above three hundred pounds. To every one of his tenants he left a legacy according to the proportion of the estate they held by way of remembrance of him; and to one of them, who was gone much behind, he remitted in his will seventy pounds. And as became his great goodness, he was ever a remarkably kind landlord, forgiving his tenants, and always making abatements to them for hard years or any other accidental losses that happened to them. He made likewise a wise provision in his will to prevent lawsuits among the legatees, by appointing two or three persons of the greatest prudence and authority among his relations final arbitrators of all differences that should arise.

The fate of his “Sermons,*‘ which have been so much admired, was somewhat singular. They were first ushered | into the world by one who could not be supposed very eager to propagate the doctrines of Christianity, the celebrated earl of Shaftesbury, author of the” Characteristics,’ 7 &c. In 1698 his lordship published “Select Sermons of Dr. Whichcote, in two parts,” 8vo. He employed on this occasion the rev. William Stephens, rector of Sutton, in Surrey, to revise, and probably superintend the press; but the long preface is unquestionably from his lordship. In addition to every other proof we may add the evidence of the late Mr. Harris of Salisbury, who informed a friend that his mother, lady Betty Harris, (who was sister to the earl of Shaftesbury) mentioned her having written the preface from her brother’s dictation, he being at that time too ill to write himself. That his lordship should become the voluntary editor and recommender of the sermons of any divine, has been accounted for by one of Dr. Whichcote’s biographers in this way: that his lordship found in these sermons some countenance given to his own peculiar sentiments concerning religion, as sufficiently practicable by our natural strength or goodness, exclusive of future rewards or punishments. To this purpose lord Shaftesbury has selected some passages of the sermons, and adds, “Thus speaks our excellent divine and truly Christian philosopher, whom for his appearing thus in defence of natural goodness, we may call the preacher of good nature. This is what he insists on everywhere, and to, make this evident is in a manner the scope of all his discourses. And in conclusion it is hoped, that what has been here suggested, may be sufficient to justify the printing of these sermons.” Whatever may be in this, it is rather singular that the same collection was republished at Edinburgh in 1742, 12mo, with a recommendatory epistle by a presby* terian divine, the rev. Dr. William Wish art, principal of the college of Edinburgh.

Three more volumes of Dr. Whichcote’s sermons were published by Dr. Jeffery, archdeacon of Norwich, in 1701—3, and a fourth by Dr. Samuel Clarke in 1707. The best edition of the whole was published in 1751, at Aberdeen, in 4 vols. 8vo, under the superintendence of Drs. Campbell and Gerard, two well-known names in the literary history of Scotland. Dr. Jeffery also published in 1703, “Moral and religious Aphorisms” collected from Dr. Whichcote’s manuscript papers. Of these an elegant edition was reprinted in 1753 by Dr. Samuel Salter, with | large additions, and a correspondence with Dr. Tuckney which we have already noticed in our account of that divine. Long before this, in 1688, some " Observations and Apophthegms’ 7 of Dr. Whichcote’s, taken from his own mouth by one of his pupils, were published in 8vo, and passed through two editions, if not more. Whichcote excelled in moral aphorisms, and many might be collected from his sermons. 1


Gen. Dict. Biog. Brit. Sailer’s edition of the Aphorisms Burnet’s Own Times. Life prefixed to the edition of his Sermons, 1751. Funeral Sermon by Tillotson.