Toplady’s Last Days and Death
On April 19th, 1778, on attempting to speak, his hoarseness became so extreme that he was obliged to descend from the pulpit after naming his text. After the above day he preached only four times, and each time was looked upon as his last. When it was generally believed he was dead, or so near death as to be past the power of speaking or writing, John Wesley or some of his followers propagated the awful falsehood that he had receded from his former principles, and had expressed a desire to protest against them in the presence of Mr. Wesley.
When the report reached his ears, dying as he was, he insisted upon being conveyed to Orange Street that he might from the pulpit contradict the statement. He was informed that it would be dangerous to make the attempt, and that probably he might die in the execution of it; to which he replied, “A good man once said he would rather wear out than rust out; and I would rather die in the harness than in the stall.”
On Sunday, June 14th, 1778, he was, therefore, taken from Knightsbridge to the chapel and after a sermon by his assistant, Dr. Illingworth, he, to the amazement of the people, ascended the pulpit and delivered a short but affecting exhortation from 2 Peter 1:13-14, in which he mentioned the peace, joy and consolation of which he participated, and his desirable expectation that in a few days he must resign his mortal part to corruption, and then see the King in His glory.
He concluded by giving his unqualified contradiction to the report that I have mentioned and, referring his hearers to his writings, said,
“Everyone of which I do hereby, as a dying man, ratify and declare to be expressive of my real religious principles.”
“I was awakened in the month of August, 1755, but not, as has been falsely reported, under Mr. John Wesley, or any preacher connected with him.”
I shall here introduce a few extracts from a narrative published a short time after his death. Some of his observations were, by a few persons who were present, committed to writing at the time. He frequently disclaimed, with abhorrence, the least dependence on his own righteousness as any cause of his justification before God, and said that he rejoiced only in the free, complete and everlasting salvation of God’s elect by Jesus Christ through the sanctification of the Holy Spirit.
A remarkable jealousy was apparent in his whole conduct for fear of receiving any part of that honour which is due to Christ alone. He desired to be nothing that Jesus might be all and in all. His feelings were so very tender upon this subject that a friend once undesignedly put him in an agony by remarking the great loss which the church of Christ would sustain by his death, at this particular juncture. The utmost distress was immediately visible in his countenance, and he exclaimed to this purpose:
“What! by my death? No! by my death? No! Jesus Christ is able, and will by proper instruments defend His own truths. And with regard to what little I have been enabled to do in this way, not to me, not to me, but to His own name, and to that only, be the glory.”
“A short time before his death,” says a friend, “at his request, I felt his pulse; and he desired to know what I thought of it. I told him, that his heart and arteries evidently beat weaker and weaker. He replied immediately, with the sweetest smile upon his countenance,”
‘Why, that is a good sign that my death is fast approaching; and, blessed be God, I can add that my heart beats every day stronger and stronger for glory.’
“A few days preceding his dissolution, I found him sitting up in his arm-chair, and scarce able to move or speak. I addressed him very softly, and asked him if his consolations continued to abound as they had hitherto done. He quickly replied,”
‘O my dear Sir, it is impossible to describe how good God is to me. Since I have been sitting in this chair this afternoon, (glory be to His name!) I have enjoyed such a season, such sweet communion with God, and such delightful manifestations of His presence with and love to my soul, that it is impossible for words or any language to express them. I have had peace and joy unutterable; and I fear not that God’s consolations and support will continue.’
But he immediately recollected himself, and added,
“What have I said? God may, to be sure, as a Sovereign, hide His face and His smiles from me. However, I believe He will not; and if He should, yet still will I trust in Him. I know I am safe and secure; for His love and His covenant are everlasting.”
“I cannot tell you the comforts I feel in my soul; they are past expression. The consolations of God to such an unworthy wretch are so abundant that He leaves me nothing to pray for but a continuance of them. I enjoy a heaven already in my soul. My prayers are all converted into praise. Nevertheless, I do not forget that I am still in the body, and liable to all those distressing fears which are incident to human nature when under temptation and without any sensible divine support. But so long as the presence of God continues with me in the degree I now enjoy it, I cannot but think that such a desponding frame is impossible.”
“Those great and glorious truths which the Lord, in rich mercy, has given me to believe, and which He has enabled me (though very feebly) to stand forth in the defence of, are not as those who believe not or oppose them say) dry doctrines or mere speculative points. No! But, being brought into practical and heart-felt experience, they are the very joy and support of my soul; and the consolations flowing from them carry me far above the things of time and sense.”
Soon afterwards he added,
“So far as I know my own heart, I have no desire but to be entirely passive; to live, to die, to be, to do, to suffer, whatever is God’s blessed will concerning me; being perfectly satisfied that, as He ever has done, so He ever will do that which is best concerning me; and that He deals out in number, weight and measure whatever will conduce most to His own glory and to the good of His people.”
“Welcome, ten thousand times welcome, the whole will of God. I am enabled to be more than resigned. I am thankful for His every dispensation, knowing that they are all ordered in faithfulness and love.”
“God forbid that I should be so vile an apostate as to recant my former principles! And yet that apostate I should soon be if I were left to myself.”
“I wish to live and die with the sword of the Spirit in my hand, and, as one expresses it, never put off my armour until I put on my shroud.”
He frequently called himself the happiest man in the world.
“O,” said he, “how this soul of mine longs to be gone! Like a bird imprisoned in a cage, it longs to take its flight. °that I had wings like a dove, then would I flee away to the realms of bliss, and be at rest for ever.”
“Sickness is no affliction; pain no curse; death itself no dissolution.”
Being asked by a friend if he always enjoyed such manifestations,
“I cannot say there are no intermissions; for if
there were not, my consolations would be more and greater than I
could possibly bear; but, when they abate, they leave such an abiding
sense of God’s goodness, and of the certainty of my being fixed upon
the eternal Rock, Christ Jesus, that my soul is still filled with peace
Within the hour of his death, he said,
“It will not be long
before God takes me; for no mortal man can live (bursting, while he
said it, into tears of joy) after the glories which God has manifested to
On Tuesday, Aug. 11th, 1778, his spirit departed. He was interred in Tottenham Court Chapel.
By John Gadsby