FORDYCE, James, D.D., author of the Sermons to Young
Women, was a younger brother of the subject of a separate article, and the
fourth son of his parents. He was born at Aberdeen in 1720, and received the
education requisite for a minister of the Scottish church at the Marischal
college. In 1752, he was appointed minister of Brechin, but soon after was
removed to Alloa, where at first he had many prejudices to encounter, though
his popular manners and captivating style of pulpit oratory enabled him very
speedily to overcome them. During his brief residence in this parish, he
published three occasional sermons, which attracted much notice; and in
1760, he increased his fame to a great degree by a discourse "On the Folly,
Infamy, and Misery of Unlawful Pleasures," which he preached before the
General Assembly, and afterwards gave to the public. The novelty of this
sermon in a country where all the best sermons were evangelical, and the
elegance of its style and sentiments, produced a great impression throughout
the country. The preacher soon after went to London, and notwithstanding the
difference between the Scottish Confession of Faith and the tenets of the
English dissenters, offered himself on a vacancy at the meeting in Carter
Lane, but without success. About this time, he received the degree of D. D.
from the university of Glasgow, and was invited by the meeting in Monkwell
Street to be co-pastor with Dr Lawrence, then aged and infirm. This
invitation he accepted, and upon Dr Lawrence’s death, which happened soon
after, he became sole pastor, and entered into the enjoyment of a very
respectable income. During his ministry in this place, he acquired a higher
degree of popularity than probably ever was, or ever will be attained by the
same means. The strong force of his eloquence drew men of all ranks and all
persuasions to hear him. His action and elocution were original, and
peculiarly striking, being not a little assisted by his figure, which was
tall beyond the common standard, and by a set of features which in preaching
displayed great variety of expression and animation. Besides his regular
attendants, who subscribed to his support, his meeting was frequented by men
curious in eloquence; and it is said, that the celebrated David Garrick was
more than once a hearer, and spoke of Dr Fordyce’s skill in oratory with
great approbation. With respect to his theological sentiments, he appears to
have possessed that general liberality which is civil to all systems,
without being attached to any. From his printed works, it would be easier to
prove that he belonged to no sect, than that he held the principles of any.
As to the matter, morality appears to have been his chief object; and as to
the manner, he ardently studied a polish and a spirit, which was then seldom
met with in English pulpits, although it had not been unusual in those of
In 1771, Dr Fordyce married Miss Henrietta Cummyngs; and
in 1775, he was involved in an unhappy dispute with his coadjutor, Mr Toller,
son-in-law to Dr Lawrence. This misunderstanding originated in some omission
of ceremonial politeness between the two reverend gentlemen, and from the
want of mutual concession, the breach widened, till reconciliation became
impossible. Dr Fordyce appears, indeed, to have been of an irritable temper,
which led him on this occasion to be guilty of an act which ultimately he
had reason deeply to regret, as it proved most injurious to his own
interest. For, on undertaking to perform the whole duty of the chapel, he
possessed sufficient influence to have Mr Toller ejected from the pastoral
charge. The consequence was, that the congregation became dissatisfied,
split into parties, and gradually dispersed, when Dr Fordyce was obliged to
resign the ministry. It is true, that bad health and the infirmities of old
age had their share in constraining him to this step, but the congregation
had previously almost entirely deserted the chapel, which was soon after
shut up. Finding himself no longer useful as a preacher, Dr Fordyce, in the
year 1783, left London, and retired first to Hampshire, and finally to Bath,
where he continued to reside until his death, which took place on the 1st of
October, 1796, in the 76th year of his age. We have, in the following letter
from Mrs Fordyce, a very interesting and instructing narrative of this
melancholy event, while it presents, at the same time, a lively picture of
Dr Fordyce’s piety and of some of the more amiable traits of his character.
"My dear sir, being now able to sit up, I can only say,
that had the state of my health, when your last soothing but affecting
letter came to hand, admitted of my writing at all, such a letter from a
favourite friend, would have impelled me to give it an immediate reply.
Accept, dear sir, of my gratitude for what it contained, especially for that
sympathy I so much stand in need of; it is the balm of true friendship; and
though it reaches me from various quarters, still the wound bleeds, and will
continue to bleed, till God shall heal it by that re-union of souls which
must take place ere long.
"Hardly two people accost each other without an eulogium
on his character, and a sigh for his death—but death it was not. To all
human appearance, he was translated. We spent a most agreeable evening
together in my dressing-room, in which he was fond of sitting, on account of
the fine air of the vale behind and the prospect: for he still kept his
relish for all that was beautiful in nature. We were both engrossed with
William Cowper’s sermon to the Jews.
"I read the hymns and psalms in the little
pamphlet.—‘Ah!’ said he, ‘this carries me back to Monkwell Street, where we
sang it together with my beloved flock; the strain shall be exalted when
next we sing it.’ Then turning to me he said, ‘we have read enough for to
night—before you call for supper, let us have some music.’ My niece is a
very fine performer—she immediately sat down to accompany him in some of his
favourite airs on the piano-forte; and a very fine cadence she sung, so
delighted him, that he made her do it over again, and turning to me, he
said, ‘How many things have we to be grateful for! The musical ear is a gift
peculiar to some, withheld from others; there are many things in life richly
to be enjoyed; all that leads up to God we may delight in; but whatever has
no reference to him, we should avoid. There are books called religious
offices, preparations for the sacrament, and preparations for death, &c.;
but for my own part, I never could think that such preparations consisted in
such times being set apart for offices, and then returning to the world, as
having done with heaven for the time being. A man is not truly prepared for
death, unless by the tenor of his life he feels himself so wholly given up
to God, that his mind is in heaven, before he goes hence; and he can only
bring himself to that, by the perpetual silent reference in all his words,
thoughts, and actions, to his Creator, which I have so often mentioned to
you.’ I replied, ‘That indeed, doctor, is the test or criterion, to judge
himself by, for a man dare have no reference or appeal for his actions to
God, if his deeds condemn him to his own conscience.’—‘God be praised,’ said
he, ‘if I should leave you, I desire you may avail yourself of them.’ In
addition to religion and the Scriptures, there are books, friendships and
music: I would name more, but these are sufficient;—cast yourself on God
through your Redeemer. He will care for you and raise you up friends.’ I
aimed at changing the conversation, and said, ‘But you are better, my dear.’
‘I am certainly easier,’ he replied, and have had less pain and better
symptoms for two or three weeks past; and I assure you, my beloved, I am not
tired of life, at all: for though the Almighty knows I have been long ready
for the summons, yet if it is his pleasure to let the lamp of life burn on a
little longer, I am satisfied, and I am his.’
"He sat his usual time after supper, which he partook of
in a moderate way, without any disrelish. About eleven he rang for the
servants, who with my niece and myself attended him every night to his
bed-chamber. To my unspeakable joy, it seemed to cost him much less effort
than common to mount the stairs; which formerly was so painful a task, that
at every landing place a chair was set for him to rest on, ere he could
ascend to the next. He joined us all in observing with gratitude and wonder,
that he should gain more ease by living longer. He and I conversed in a very
pleasing style on various subjects till about one o’clock, and then he urged
my going to bed, lest I should be hurt by such late hours. He also forbade
me to get up in the night, as anxiety about him had often made me do, unless
I should hear him call me; he made me promise I would not, after which we
embraced. I left him very happy, comfortable, and serene; I might add even
cheerful. We both slept in our different apartments, and mine had a door of
communication with his, so he could not stir without my hearing. He awoke
about two o’clock and lighted a wax bougie at his lamp, one of which stood
on a dumb waiter, at his bed-side, with his medicines and cordials. He
lighted it to take the ethereal spirit; but forgetting to blow it out, it
unluckily took fire in the bunch; the smell of which awoke him perhaps in
some alarm. He then called to me, who was just in my first sleep, and
springing up eagerly in the dark, I stumbled, and struck my head against the
door; the blow for a few minutes stunned me and made me reel in coming up to
him. I affected to be well that he might not be alarmed. ‘I called to you,
my love, lest the smell of fire which the bougie occasioned, might have
frightened you. You have paid dear for coming to me by this blow.’ Saying so
he got up, and calling the women with a firm voice three or four times, they
and my niece were all at once with us. I was praying him to return to bed,
but he refused until he should get me, from their hands, some sal volatile.
He then said, ‘Are you better?’ I answered ‘O well, well.’—‘God be praised,’
said he, raising his hands, and with the words in his mouth he fell in our
arms without a groan, a sigh, or so much as the rattle in the throat. The
spirit was instantly fled and for ever, to the God that gave it. He was
taken from my arms, who will ever live in my heart, and I saw him no more."
Dr Fordyce’s first literary attempt was made as editor of
the posthumous work of his brother, Mr David Fordyce, published in 1752,
entitled the "Art of Preaching." But he is best known to the world by the
ingenious and elegant sermons which he addressed to young women; and his
addresses to young men. He was author, however, of several other
publications, and was remarkable for the energy and usefulness of his pulpit
instructions. His private character was amiable, his manners those of a
gentleman and Christian. He blended great cheerfulness with sincere and
ardent piety. He possessed a cultivated understanding, a warm heart, and
great liberality of sentiment. He was a steady friend of civil and religious
toleration—not from indifference but from a true spirit of Christian
The following is a list of Dr Fordyce’s works.
1. "The eloquence of the Pulpit, an ordination sermon, to
which is added a charge," 12mo, 1752.
2. "An essay on the action proper for the pulpit," 12mo.
Both these are published at the end of Theodorus, a Dialogue concerning the
art of preaching, by David Fordyce, 3d edition, l2mo, 1755.
3. "The method of edification by public instruction," an
ordination sermon to which is added a charge, l2mo, 1754. These were
delivered at the ordination of Mr John Gibson, minister of St Ninians, May
4. "The Temple of Virtue, a dream, 12mo, 1747. 2d
edition, much altered, 1755.
5. " The folly, infamy, and misery of unlawful
pleasures," a sermon preached before the general assembly of the church of
Scotland, 25th May, 1760—8vo, 1760.
6. "A Sermon occasioned by the death of the Rev.
Dr Samuel Lawrence, who departed this life 1st October, 1760, with an
address at his interment," 8vo, 1760.
7. "Sermons to young women, 2 vols. l2mo, 1760.
8. "The character and conduct of the female sex, and the
advantages to be derived by young men from the society of virtuous young
women; a discourse in three parts, delivered in Monkwell Street chapel, 1st
January, 1776, 8vo, 1776.
9. "Addresses to young men, 2 vols. l2mo, 1777.
10. "The delusive and persecuting spirit of popery;" a
sermon preached in the Monkwell Street chapel on the 10th of February, being
the day appointed for the general fast, 8vo, 1779.
11. "Charge delivered in Monkwell Street chapel, at the
ordination of the Rev. James Lindsay," 8vo, 1783. Printed with the sermon
delivered by Dr Hunter on that occasion.
12. "Addresses to the Deity," l2mo.
13. "Poems " l2mo, 1786.
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