Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Saved by grace

Jeffrey Hart on Samuel Johnson including this about his fear of death and damnation:
.... For much of his adult life, Johnson appears to have believed that he was literally damned. .... The scholar Maurice Quinlan has demonstrated how Johnson was at least partially relieved of this terror. Taking very seriously the teaching of the theologian William Law, Johnson for years believed that one must “imitate Christ” in order to be saved. Needless to say, that is a tall order. But then Johnson was instructed by another theologian that there is a different economy of salvation. The eccentric Samuel Clarke persuaded Johnson that the grace conferred by Christ could absolve even the sins of one Sam Johnson, whatever they were.

The emotional energy and eloquence of Johnson’s prayers must strike us as startling. In his religious passion, he seems less a man of his own time than a contemporary of men such as Donne and Herbert:
O Lord, our heavenly father, almighty and most merciful God, in whose hands are life and death, who givest and takest away, castest down and raisest up, look with mercy on the affliction of thy unworthy servant, turn away thine anger from me, and speak peace to my troubled soul. Grant me the assistance and comfort of thy Holy Spirit, that I may remember with thankfulness the blessings so long enjoyed by me in the society of my departed wife.
Elizabeth Johnson had died in 1752, about a month before Johnson uttered this prayer. ....

These afflictions seriously tormented a man who had one of the most powerful intellects of his time but also a tortured spirit. Johnson’s prayers should not be omitted from any consideration of him, for they are among the most eloquent devotional writing we have. .... [more]
Although out of print Daily Readings in the Prayers of Samuel Johnson with an introduction by Elton Trueblood can be found inexpensively from the online second-hand book dealers at Alibris.