Page:A biographical dictionary of eminent Scotsmen, vol 6.djvu/157

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page needs to be proofread.


REV. DR. JAMES MACKNIGHT. 527

when some of his moderate friends wished for the abolition of Calls, as an unne- cessary form in the settlement of ministers, he moved and carried a resolution of the Assembly of 1782, (relative to certain overtures on the subject, then under the discussion of the house,) " declaring, that the moderation of a Call in settling ministers, is agreeable to the immemorial and constitutional practice of this church, and that it ought to be continued:" a resolution which was afterwards converted into a declaratory act, and printed as such in the proceedings of the Assembly for that year.

But what chiefly engaged his mind, and occupied his time, after he became a minister of Edinburgh, was the execution of his last and greatest work on the Apostolical Epistles; which was published in 1795, in four volumes quarto. Respecting this work, it is perhaps not unworthy of being told, that it was the result of the unremitting labour of almost thirty years ; that, notwithstanding his numerous professional avocations, the author, while composing it, was seldom less than eleven hours every day employed in study; and that before it came to the press, the whole manuscript had been written no less than five times with his own hand. At the time of publishing " The New Translation of the Apos- tolical Epistles, with a Commentary and Notes," Dr Macknight was highly in- debted to the patronage of the duke of Grafton ; and after the work made its appearance, he received the most honourable testimonies of approbation from many of the bishops and respectable dignitaries of the church of England, as well as from the ablest divines of all descriptions.

After the publication of this work, Dr Macknight considered himself as having accomplished the greatest object of his life ; and, wishing to enjoy at the end of his days, some relief from the labour of study, he resisted the repeated solicita- tions of his friends, who earnestly urged him to undertake the illustration of the Book of the Acts, on the same plan which he had so successfully followed in explaining other parts of the New Testament. But soon after this period, from the want of their usual exercise, a sensible decline of his faculties, particularly a failure of his memory, was observed by his family. This fact is a striking instance of the analogy between the powers of the body and those of the mind, both of which suffer by inaction ; and it furnishes a useful caution to those who have been long habituated to any regular exertion of mind, against at once de- sisting entirely from its usual efforts ; since the effect, in the course of nature, is not only to create languor, but to hasten the progress of debility and failure.

As yet, however, (1796,) Dr Macknight's bodily vigour seemed to be but little impaired. In early life, he was afflicted with frequent headaches; but after he had reached the age of thirty, they seldom returned: and he afforded a singular instance of a sedentary life long continued, with hardly any of those complaints which it usually induces. This uninterrupted enjoyment of health he owed, under Providence, to a naturally robust make, and a constitution of body un- commonly sound and vigorous, along with regular habits of temperance, and of taking exercise, which he did by walking nearly three hours every day.

Having finished the task he had prescribed to himself as an author, he mingled frequently in the society of his friends, from which, at intervals, he had always received much enjoyment ; and long retained the same cheerfulness of temper, for which at the hours of relaxation from severe study, he had been remarkable, when in the company of those whom he esteemed. Even after the symptoms of his decline were become visible, (1798,) his natural sagacity and strength of judgment, as well as his extensive and familiar knowledge of the Scriptures, were still to be discerned in his conversation and public appear- ances. And so habitual was his anxiety to discharge his duty, that he insisted on officiating for a considerable time after his friends had wished him to with-