Daniel Burgess, 16451713
HE name of Daniel Burgess is usually associated with jesting, but this is another instance of the way in which worthy men have been held up to ridicule. He was a Dissenter, and a man of great courage and boldness of speech; he was also a quaint and attractive preacher, and so the word went forth from the evil one that he should be denounced as a buffoon. In those days there was no law to protect the Dissenter, or at least no officer who cared to put it in force, and so Mr. Burgess and his congregation were shamefully annoyed by persons of the baser sort; but when he was urged to prosecute these disturbers he only replied, "No, I have freely forgiven them, and shall never meditate revenge." These are not the words of a buffoon.
His hearers procured for him a meeting-house in Brydges Street, Covent Garden, where a large congregation always gathered. "Being situated," says one of his biographers, "in the neighborhood of the theater, and surrounded by many who were fools enough to mock at sin and religion, he frequently had among his hearers those who came only to make themselves merry at the expense of religion, Dissenters, and Daniel Burgess. This his undaunted courage, his pointed wit, and ready elocution turned to great advantage: for he frequently fixed his eye on those scoffers, and addressing them personally in a lively, piercing, and serious manner, was blessed to the conversion of many who came only to mock."
He continued as pastor over this congregation for thirty years, during which a new place of worship was built by them in Carey Street, and when this was utterly wrecked by Sacheverell's mob, it was repaired at the expense of the government; but the expense and trouble to which they were put seriously burdened his people. He died January 1712-13, in the sixty eighth year of his age, and was buried at St. Clement Danes, Strand. A writer says, "It has escaped the notice of his biographers, that the celebrated Lord Bolingroke was once his pupil, and the world has to regret that his lordship did not learn what Daniel Burgess might have taught him; for Daniel, with all his oddities, which made him for so many years the butt of Swift, Steele, and the other wits of the time, was a man of real piety."
One story which is told of him may have possibly been true, but we are not sure. When treating on the robe of righteousness, he said, "If any of you would have a good and cheap suit, you will go to Monmouth Street; if you want a suit for life, you will go to the Court of Chancery; but if you wish for a suit that will last to eternity, you must go to the Lord Jesus Christ, and put on his robe of righteousness." This is probably a garbled quotation. The reader may accept it cum grano salis.
Although it pleased the graceless wit-lings of his day to father silly stories upon Burgess, it is clear to all impartial persons that he was a man of mark, and of deep piety. When the Society for the Reformation of Manners was instituted he was selected to preach the first sermon. This was published under the title of "The Golden Snuffing," aria is a proof of how the good man was vilified; for a critic describes it as "replete with forced puns," and we therefore procured it, but cannot find a pun in it, and scarcely anything quotable for special quaintness,,unless it be the following passage: "Christ's ministers are your souls' physicians. We are not fiddlers to tickle your ears, nor confectioners to please your palates, but physicians to cure your diseases, and if you nauseate our most needful medicines we dare not withhold them, and gratify you with sugared poisons." We are sure that the critic never saw the sermon, but judged it from the title alone. The first choice of the preacher by a society which commanded the ablest ministers would not have fallen on a mere buffoon.
Our best evidence that Daniel Burgess was a good man and true is found in the facts that he was thought worthy by his contemporaries to preach one of the sermons in the famous series of "Morning Exercises," that he was much beloved by the excellent Dr. Bates, and that Matthew Henry preached a funeral sermon for him, wherein his homely speech is admitted and abundantly justified. With an extract from this sermon our brief notice must conclude:
"He often said he chose rather to be profitable than fashionable in his preaching, and that he thought it cost him more pains to study plainness than it did others to study fineness; and he would be willing to go out of the common way to meet with sinners, to persuade them to return to their God. 'That is the best key (said he) that fits the lock, and opens the door, though it be not a silver or a golden one.' Many have acknowledged that they came to hear him at first only to scoff at him, and make a jest of what he said, but went away under such convictions about the concerns of their souls and another world, as, it was hoped, ended in a happy change of their spirits.
"In his preaching he insisted mostly upon the first great principles of religion, which all good Christians are agreed in; and one who was a very competent judge told me, he thought he had as good a faculty in demonstrating them, and making them plain and evident, as most men he ever heard. He much lamented and vigorously opposed the growth of deism and infidelity among us, saying he dreaded a 'Christless Christianity.' He meddled not with party matters, or matters of doubtful disputation, but plainly made it his aim to bring people to-believe in Jesus Christ, and to live in all godliness and honesty. He was particularly careful to explain the two covenants of works and grace, and to guard against the two rocks of presumption and despair. He now and then used some plain similitude's or surprising turns of expression, or little stories, such perhaps as we find Bishop Latimer's sermons full of, which by some were turned to his reproach; but it is certain many particular stories were maliciously fathered on him, that were abominably false, and raised by a lying spirit only to obstruct his usefulness; and in the general he was industriously misrepresented by many, who it is to be feared therein discovered no kindness for serious godliness. A gentleman having once the curiosity to go to hear him, when he had done, could scarce be made to believe that this was Mr. Burgess; for, said he, 'I never heard a better sermon in my life.!'"