Death and Character of Bernard.
No one of the ancient fathers seems to have had so little justice done to his memory as Bernard. He lived in an age so ignorant and superstitious, that protestants are ready to ask, can any good thing come out of the twelfth century? It is difficult, indeed, to say, whether he has been more injured by the extravagant encomiums of some, or by the illiberal censures of others. Even the fictitious miracles, of which the wretched accounts of his biographers are full, indirectly asperse his character, and by no uncommon association of ideas, seem to detract all credibility from the best attested narratives of his piety
* De Evang. Serm. 3.
and virtue. While then papists represent him as an angel, and protestants as a narrow bigot, or a furious zealot, those, who know nothing more of him than what they have learned from the prejudice of opposite extremes, are tempted to think him an object worthy of contempt, if not of detestation.
The great Roman historian, in a beautiful fragment preserved to us concerning the death of Cicero, observes, that to celebrate his character, as it deserves, a Cicero himself should be found as panegyrist.* A somewhat similar observation may be made concerning Bernard; and happily his voluminous writings, which have escaped the ravages of time, vindicate his reputation, and exhibit him to us with faithfulness and accuracy. It was necessary to be brief in my extracts; else much more numerous proofs of his genuine piety, humility, and charity, than those which the reader hath already seen, might have been adduced. Nor have I concealed his superstitious turn of mind, and the unhappy prejudices, which induced him to censure some of those, of whom " the world was not worthy," and with whose true character he was unacquainted. He was deeply tinged with a predilection for the Roman hierarchy; he had imbibed most of those errors of his time, which were not directly subversive of the gospel; and the monastic character, which, according to the spirit of the age, appeared to be the greatest glory, seems to have much eclipsed his real virtues, and prevented his progress in true evangelical wisdom.
But if we strip him of the ascetic vest, and consider the interior endowments, he will appear to have been no mean or ordinary character. His learning was but moderate; his understanding was solid, and his judgment seldom erred in subjects or cases, where the prejudices of the age did not warp the imagination. His genius was truly sublime, his temper sanguine, his mmd active and vigorous. The love of
• Cicerone quidem laudatore opus csset. Liv. fragm.
God appears to have taken deep root in his soul, and seems to have been always steady, though always ardent. His charity was equal to his zeal; and his tenderness and compassion to christian brethren went hand in hand with his severity against the heretical, the profane, and the vicious. In humility, he was truly admirable; he scarce seems to have felt a glimpse of pleasure on account of the extravagant praises every where bestowed upon him. His heart felt dependence on Christ, and his heavenly affections were incontestibly strong. He united much true christian knowledge, with much superstition; and this can hardly be accounted for on any other supposition, than that he was directed by an influence truly divine. For there is not an essential doctrine of the gospel, which he did not embrace with zeal, defend by argument, and adorn by life. Socinianism in particular, under God, was by his means nipped in the bud, and prevented from thriving in the christian world. Such was Bernard, who is generally called the last of the fathers.
The accounts of his death, considered as compositions, are no less disgusting to a taste of tolerable correctness, than those of his life. While his friends admired him as an angel, he felt himself, by nature, a sinful fallen creature. He was about sixty-three years old, when he died of a disease in the stomach. A letter, which he dictated to a friend, a very few days before his decease, will be worth our attention, as a genuine monument of that simplicity, modesty, and piety, which had adorned his conversation. " I received your love, with affection, I cannot say with pleasure; for what pleasure can there be to a person in my circumstances, replete with bitterness? To eat nothing solid, is the only way to preserve myself tolerably easy. My sensitive powers admit of no further pleasure. Sleep hath departed from my eyes, and prevented the least intermission of my pain. Stomachic weakness is, as it were, the sum total of mv afflictions. By day and night I receive a small portion of liquids. Every thing solid, the stomach rejects. The
very scanty supply, which I now and then receive, is painful; but perfect emptiness would be still more so. If now and then I take in a larger quantity, the effect is most distressing. My legs and feet are swoln, as in a dropsy. In the midst of these afflictions, that I mayhide nothing from an anxious friend, in my inner man (I speak as a vulgar person) the spirit is ready, though the flesh be weak. Pray ye to the Saviour, who willeth not the death of a sinner,- that he would not delay my timely exit, but that still he would guard it. Fortify with your prayers a poor unworthy creature, that the enemy who lies in wait, may find no place where he may fix his tooth, and inflict a wound. These words I have dictated, but in such a manner, that ye may know my affection by a hand well known to you."* Such were the dying circumstances of this excellent saint. So peculiarly were they disposed, that they seemed to rebuke the ignorant admiration of his friends; and thus, through faith and patience, did he at length, inherit the promises.