It’s been about three years since I bought my first little book containing Samuel Johnson’s writing, Elton Trueblood’s Daily Readings from the Prayers of Samuel Johnson. Recently I read a reference to Dr. Johnson that reminded me I still know very little about him or his writing so I took the book down again.
From the introduction:
Having read William Law’s Serious Call, while a student at Oxford, Johnson became convinced that it was possible to be a Christian with the consent of all his faculties. “I expected to find it a dull book (as such books generally are), and perhaps to laugh at it,” said Johnson. “But I found Law quite an overmatch for me; and this was the first occasion of my thinking in earnest of religion after I became capable of rational inquiry.” Johnson’s conviction was strengthened rather than diminished with the passage of years. “From this time forward,” says Boswell in a well-known passage, “religion was the predominant object of his thoughts.”
…Johnson was far removed from religious fanaticism. He objected greatly to what he called “feelers,” meaning thereby those who relied exclusively on religious emotion, and he objected likewise to any extreme practices. “Whoever loads life with unnecessary scruples, Sir, provokes the attention of others on his conduct, and incurs the censure of singularity without reaping the reward of superior virtue.”
…While Johnson was deeply religious he was not a religionist. “Religionist” he rightly understood as a term of abuse, defining the word in his Dictionary as “a bigot to any religious persuasion.” This he sought not to be….Though Johnson was no bigot, his religious conviction was so intense that it found its way into all aspects of his rich life…His essays were written with the Christian faith always in mind, though it was often unmentioned. In the last paragraph of the last Rambler he said, reflectively, “The essays professedly serious, if I have been able to execute my own intentions, will be found exactly conformable to the precepts of Christianity and without any accommodation to the licentiousness and levity of the present age.”
I think it is time to find Boswell’s book.