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and senient beings it contains, and every thought and perception that passes through the minds of the unnumbered intelligences which people all worlds, are intimately known, and for ever present to his omniscient eye, and all directed to accomplish the designs of his universal providence and the eternal purposes of his will. “He hath prepared his throne in the neavens, his kingdom rulesh over all,” and “he doth according to his will among the armies of heaven,” as well as “among the inhabitants of the earth.” “The host of heaven worshippeth him, all his works, in all places of his dominions, praise him. His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and of his government there shall be no end.” At the same moment he is displaying the glory of his power and intelligence to worlds far beyond the reach of mortal eyes,—presiding over the counci's of nations on earth, and supporting the invisible animalcula in a drop of water. “In him” all beings, from the archangel to the worm, “live and move,” and on him they depend for all that happiness they now possess, or ever will enjoy, while eternal ages are rolling on. . Such views of the omnipotence of the Deity and of the grandeur of his empire, are calculated not only to expand our conceptions of his attributes, but to enliven our hopes in relation to the enjoyments of the future world. For webchold a prospect boundless as immensity, in which the human soul may for ever expatiate, and contemplate new scenes of glory and felicity continually bursting on the view, “world without end.” Such are some of the views of the Deity which the works of nature, when contemplated through the medium of science, are calculated to unfold. They demonstrate the unity of God, his wisdom and intelligence,—his boundless benevolence,— the vast multiplicity of ideas which have existed in his mind from eternity,+his almighly power, and the magnificence of his empire. These views are in perfect unison with the declarations of the sacred oracles; they illustrate many of the sublime sentiments of the inspired writers; they throw a light on the moral government of God, and elevate our conceptions of the extent of his dominions; they afford a sensible representation of the infinity and immensity of the divine nature, in so far as finite minds are capable of contemplating such perfections: and, when considered in connexion with the scriptura! character of Deity and the other truths of revelation, are calculated “to make the man of God perfect and thoroughly furnished unto every good work.” As the works of God without the assistance of his word, are insufficient to give us a complete view of his character and the principles of his moral government, so the bare reading of the Scriptures is insufficient to convey to vur minds those diversified and expansive con
ceptions of the Divinity to which we have ce. verted, unless we comply with the requisitions of the sacred writers, to “mediate on all his works, to consider the operations of his hands, to speak of the glory of his kingdom,” and to talk of his “power,” in order that we may be qualified “to make known to the sons of men his mighty operations, and the glorious majesty of his kingdom.” How very different, then, from the views now stated, must be the conceptions formed of the Divinity, by those whose range of thought is chiefly confined to the objects that lie within a few miles of their habiation, and how limited ideas must they entertain of divine perfection: For the view that any one entertains of the nature and attributes of God, must, in some degree, correspond to the knowledge he has acquired of the visible effects of his power, wisdom, and benevolence; since it is only by the sensible manifestations of Deity, either through the medium of nature or revelation, that we know any thing at all about his nature and perfections. And, therefore, if our views of the manifestations of the Divinity be limited and obscure, such will likewise be our views of the Divinity him. self. It is owing to the want of attention to such considerations, that many worthy Christians are found to entertain very confused and distort. ed ideas of the character of the Deity, of the requisitions of his word, and of the arrangements of his universal providence. And is it not an object much to be desired, that the great body of mankind should be more fully enlightened in the knowledge of their Creator The knowledge of God lies at the foundation of all religion, and of all our prospects in reference to the eternal world, and it must surely be a highly desirable attainment to acquire as glorious and expansive an idea of the object of our adoration, as the finite capacity of our intellects is capable of comprehending. Such views as we have now exhibited of the wisdom, power, and beneficence of the Deity, and of the magnificence and variety of his works, were they communicated to the generality of mankind and duly appreciated, would not only interest their affections and increase their intellectual enjoyment, but would enable them to understand the meaning and references of many sublime passages in the volume of inspiration which they are apt either to overlook or to misinterpret. Such views, likewise, would naturally inspire them with reverence and adoration of the Divine Majesty, with gratitude for his wise and benevolent arrangements, with complacency in his administration as the moral Governor of the world,—with a firm reliance on his providential care for every thing requisite to their happiness, and with an earnest desire to yield a cordial obedience to his righteous laws. At the same time, they would be qualified to 'eclare to others “the glorious honour of "is
Knowledge is valuable chiefly in proporhon as it is practical and useful. It dispels the larkness which naturally broods over the human inderstanding, and dissipates a thousand super"titious notions and idle terrors by which it has oeen frequently held in cruel bondage. It inorigorates and expands the intellectual faculties, and directs them to their proper objects. It elevates the mind in the scale of rational existance, by enlarging its views and refining its pleasures. It gratifies the desire of the soul for perpetual activity, and renders its activities subservient to the embellishment of life and the improvement of society. It unveils the beauties and sublimities of nature, with which the heavens and the earth are adorned, and sets before us the “Book of God,” in which we may trace the lineaments of his character and the ways of his providence. It aggran sizes our ideas of the omnipotence of Deity, and unfolds to us the riches of his beneficence, and the depths of his wisdom and intelligence. And, in the exercise of our powers on such objects, we experience a thousand delightful emotions and enjoyments to which the unenlightened multitude are entire strangers. All such activities and enjoyments may be reckoned among the practical advantages of knowledge.
But there is no application of knowledge nore interesting and important than its practical bearings on moral principle and action. If it were not calculated to produce a beneficial effect ol. the state of morals and the intercourses of general society, the utility of its general diffusion might, with some show of reason, be called in question. But, there cannot be the slightest, doubt, that an increase of knowledge would be productive of an increase of moral order, and an improvement in moral conduct. For truth, in thought and sentiment, leads to truth in action. The man who is in the habit of investigating truth, and who rejoices in it when ascertained, cannot be indifferent to its application to conduct. There must be truth in his actions; they must be the expression, the proof, and the effect of his sentinents and affections, in order that he may approve of them, and be satisfied that they are virtuous, or accordant with the relations which subsist among moral agents. There must ikewise be a truth or harmony between his ac
tions, so that none of them be incoherent with the rest. They must all be performed on the same principles, with the same designs, and by the same rule. To a man who perceives truth and loves it, every incongruity and every want of consistency between sentiment and action, produces a disagreeable and painful sensation; and, consequently, he who clearly perceives the rule of right, and acts in direct opposition to it, does violence to his nature, and must be subjected to feelings and remorses of conscience far more painful than those of the man whose mind is shrouded in ignorance. It is true, indeed, that proficiency in knowledge and in the practice of true morality, do not always proceed with equal pace. But, it is nevertheless true, that every action that is truly virtuous is founded on knowledge, and is the result of scrutiny and choice directed by truth; otherwise, what is termed virtue, would be only the effect of necessity, of constraint, or of mechanical habits. We need not, therefore, fear, that the dominion of virtue” will be contracted, or her influence diminished, by an enlargement of the kingdom of light and knowledge. They are inseparably connected, their empire is one and the same, and the true votaries of the one will also be the true votaries of the other. And, therefore, every one that sincerely loves mankind and desires their moral improvement, will diffuse light around him as extensively as he can, without the least fear of its ultimate consequences; since he knows for certain, that in all cases whatever, wisdom excels folly, and light is better than darkness. The following observations will perhaps tend more particularly to comfirm and elucidate these positions. 1. Ignorance is one principal cause of the want of virtue, and of the immoralities which abound in the world. Were we to take a survey of the moral state of the world, as delineated in the history of nations, or as depicted by modern voy-gers and travellers, we should find abundant illustration of the truth of this remark. We should find, in almost every instance, that ignorance of the character of the true God, and false conceptions of the nature of the worship and service he requires, have led not only to the most obscene practices and immoral abominations, but to the perpetration of the most horrid cruelties. We have only to turn our eyes to Hindostan, to Tartary, Dahomy, Benin, Ashantee, and other petty states in Africa; to New Zealand, the Marquesas, the Sar...wich islands, and to the Society isles in the Southern Pacific, prior to their late moral transformation, in order
• By virtue, in this place, and wherever the term occurs, I understand, conduct regulated by the law of God, including to oth the external action and the principle whence it flows: in other words, Christian morality, or that holiness which the Scriptures enjoin.
to be convinced of this melancholy truth. The destruction of new-born infants, the burning of living women upon the dead bodies of their husbands,-the drowning of aged parents, the offering of human victims in sacrifice,—the torturing to death of prisoners taken in battle, the murder of infants and the obscene abominations of the societies of the Arreoy in Otaheite and other islands, and the dreadful effects of ambition, treachery, and revenge, which so frequently accompany such practices, are only a few specimens of the consequences of ignorance combined with human depravity. It is likewise to ignorance chiefly that the vices of the ancient pagan world are to be attributed. To this cause the apostle of the Gentiles ascribes the immoralities of the heathen nations. “The Gentiles,” says Paul, “having the understanding darkened through the ignorance that is in them, have given themselves over unto lasciviousness, to work all manner of uncleanness with greediness.” And, in another part of his writings, he declares, “Because they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, they were given up to a reprobate mind,” or a mind void of judgment; and the consequence was, “they were filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness, envy, murder, deceit, and malignity;” they were “backbiters, haters of God, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, without understanding, without natural affection, implacable, and unmerciful.”f And, if we turn our eyes to the state of society around us, we shall find that the same cause has produced the same effects. Among what class do we find sobriety, temperance, rectitude of conduct, honesty, active beneficence, and abstinence from the grosser vices most frequently to prevail? Is it among ignorant and grovelling minds ! Is it not among the wise and intelligent, those who have been properly instructed in their duty, and in the principles of moral action? And, who are those that are found most frequently engaged in fighting, brawling, and debauchery, in the commission of theft and other petty crimes, and in rioting in low houses of dissipation? Are they not, for the most part, the rude, the ignorant, and untutored,—those whose instruction has been neglected by their parents or guardians, or whose wayward tempers have led them to turn a deaf ear to the reproofs of wisdom * From all the investigations which of late have been made into the state of immorality and crime, it is found, that gross ignorance, and its necessary concomitant, grovelling affections, are the general characteristics of those who are en. in criminal pursuits, and most deeply sunk vicious induigence. Now, if it be a fact that ignorance is one principal source of immolality
Ephes. iv. 18, 19. t Rom. i. 28.3".
and crime, it appears a natural and necessary inference, that the general diffusion of knowledge would tend to counteract its influence and operations. For when we remove the cause of any evil, we, of course, prevent the effects; and not only so, but at the same time bring into operation all those virtues which knowledge has a tendency to produce. 2. Knowledge is requisite for ascertaining the true principles of moral action, and the duties we ought to perform. Numerous are the treatises which have been written, and various the opinions which have been entertained, both in ancient and modern times, respecting the soundation of virtue and the rules of human conduct. And were we to investigate the different theories which have been formed on this subject, to weigh the arguments which have been brought forward in support of each hypothesis, and to balance the various conflicting opinions which different philosophers have maintained, a considerable portion of human life would be wasted before we arrived at any satisfactory conclusions. But if we take the system of revelation for our guide in the science of morals, we shall be enabled to arrive, by a short process, at the most important and satisfactory results. We skall find, that, after all the theories which have been proposed, and the systems which have been reared by ethical philosophers, the Supreme Lawgiver has comprised the essence of true morality under two commands, or fundamental principles, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart,” and “Thou shall love thy neighbour as thyself.” On these two commandments rests the whole duty of man. Now, although the leading ideas contained in these commands are simple and obvious to every one who considers them attentively, yet it requires certain habits of reflection and a considerable portion of knowledge, to be enabled to trace these laws or principles to all their legitimate consequences, and to follow them in all their ramifications, and in their bearings on human conduct, and on the actions of all moral intelligences. For, it can easily be shown, that these laws are so comprehensive as to reach every possible moral action, to prevent every moral evil, and to secure the happiness of every moral agent, that all the duties inculcated in the Bible, which we owe to God, to our fellowcreatures, and to ourselves, are comprehended in them, and are only so many ramifications of these general and fundamental principles,—that they are equally adapted to men on earth and to angels in heaven, that their control extends to the inhabitants of all worlds,--that they form the basis of the order and happiness of the whole intelligent system—and that their authority and influence will extend not only through all the revolutions of time, but through all the ages of etermity. Here, then, we have a subject calcu
..ated to exercise the highest powers of intelligence, and the more we investigate it the more shall we admire the comprehensive nature of that “law which is exceeding broad,” and the more shall we be disposed to comply with its divine requisitions. But unless we be, in some measure, acquainted with the first principles of moral action, and their numerous bearings upon life and conduct, we cannot expect to make rapid. advances in the path of virtue, or to reach the sublimer heights of moral improvement. 3. Knowledge, combined with habits of thinking, would lead to inquiries into the reasons of those moral laws which the Creator has promulgated, and the foundations on which they rest. It is an opinion which very generally prevails, even among the more respectable portion of mankind, that the moral laws given forth to men are the mere dictates of Sovereignty, and depend solely on the will of the Deity, and, consequently, that they might be modified, or even entirely superseded, were it the pleasure of the Supreme Legislator to alter them or to suspend their authority. But this is a most absurd and dangerous position. It would take away from the inherent ercellence of virtue, and would represent the Divine Being as acting on principles similar to those of an Eastern despot. If such a position were true, it would follow, that all the immoralities, cruelties, oppressions, wars, and butcheries that have taken place in the world, are equally excellent and amiable as truth, justice, virtue, and benevolence, and that the character of infernal fiends is just as lovely and praiseworthy as that of angels and archange's provided the Deity willed that such a change should take place. Were such a change possible, it would not only overturn all the notions we are accustomed to entertain respecting the moral attributes of God, but might ultimately destroy our hopes of future enjoyment, and endanger the happiness of the whole moral universe. But, there is an inherent excellence in moral virtue, and the Dei'v has willed it to exist, because it is essential to the happiness and order of the intelligent system. It might be shown, that not only the two fundamental principles of religion and morality stated above, but all the moral precepts which flow from them, are founded on the nature of God, and on the relations which subsist among intelligent agen's, and that, were they reverse i, or their inluence suspended, misery would reign uncontrolled through the universe, and in the course of ages the whole moral and intelligent system would be annihilated.* Now, if men were accustomed to investigate the foundations of morality, and the reasons of
* For a full illustration of these positions, and a varicty of topics connected with them, the author begs to refer I, is routero to a work which he lately published, entitle 1 "The Philosophy of Roto-on, or an Illustration of the Moral Laws of the Universe.”
those moral precepts which are laid before them as the rule of their conduct, they would perceive a most powerful motive to universal obedience. They would plainly see, that all the laws of God are calculated to secure the happiness of every moral agent who yields obedience to them,that it is their interest to yield a voluntary submission to these laws, and that misery both here and hereafter, is the certain and necessary consequence of their violation. It is a common feeling with a considerable portion of mankind, though seldom expressed in words, that the laws of heaven are too strict and unbending.—that they interfere with what they consider their pleasures and enjoyments, and that if one or more of them could be a little modified or relaxed, they would have no objections to attempt a compliance with the rest. But such feelings and sentinents are altogether preposterous and absurd. It would be inconsistent not only with the rectitude, but with the benevolence of the Deity, to set aside or to relax a single requisition of that law which is “perfect,” and which, as it now stands, is calculated to promote the happiness of all worlds. Were he to do so, and to permit moral agents to act accordingly, it would be nothing less than to shut up the path to happiness, and to open the flood-gates of misery upon the intelligent universe. Hence we are told by Him who came to fulfil the law, that, sooner may “heaven and earth pass away,” or the whole frame of nature be discolved, than that “one jot or one tittle can pass from this law.” For, as it is founded on the nature of God, and on the relations which subsist between Him and created beings, it must be absolutely perfect and ofeternal obligation; and, consequently, nothing could be taken from it, without destroying its perfection, nor any thing added to it, without supposing that it was originally imperfect. Were the bulk of mankind, therefore, capable of entering into the spirit of such investigations, and qualified to perceive the true foundations of moral actions; were they, for example, clearly to perceive, that truth is the bond of society, and the foundation of all delightful intercourse among intelligent beings in every world, and that, were the law which enjoins it to be reversed, and rational creatures to act accordingly, all confidence would be completely destroyed,—the inhabitants of all worlds thrown into a state of universal anarchy, and creation transformed into a chaos, -such views and sentiments could not fail of producing a powerful and beneficial influence on the state of morals, and a profound reverence and respect for that law “which is holy, just, and good.” 4. Knowledge, in combination with habits of reflection, would lead to self-eramination and self. inspection. The indolent and untutored mind shuns all exertion of its intellectual faculties, and all serious reflection on what passes within it,
3r has a relation to moral character and conduct. It is incapable of investigating its own powers, of determining the manner in which they should operate, or of ascertaining the secret springs of its actions. Yet, without a habit of reflection and self-examination, we cannot attain a knowledge of ourselves, and, without self-knowledge, we cannot apply aright our powers and capacities, correct our failings and defects, or advance to higher degrees of improvement in knowledge and virtue. In order to ascertain our state, our character, and our duty, such inquiries as the following must frequently and seriously be the subject of consideration. What rank do I hold in the scale of being, and what place do I occupy in the empire of God? Am I merely a sensitive creature, or am I also endowed with moral and intellectual powers ? In what relations do I stand to my fellow-creatures, and what duties do I owe them 2 What is my ultimate destination? Is it merely to pass a few years in eating and drinking, in motion and rest, like the lower animals, or am I designed for another and a higher sphere of existence 2 In what relation do I stand to my Creator, and what homage, submission, and obedience ought I to yield to him 3 What are the talents and capacities with which I am endowed, and how shall I apply them to the purposes for which they were given me 3 What are the weaknesses and deficiencies to which I am subject, and how are they to be remedied? What are the vices and follies to which I am inclined, and by what means may they be counteracted # What are the temptations to which I am exposed, and how shall they be withstood 2 What are the secret springs of my actions, and by what laws and motives are they regulated ? What are the tempers and dispositions which I most frequently indulge, and are they accordant with the rules of rectitude and virtue 2 What are the prejudices I am apt to entertain, and by what means may they be subdued 2 What are the affections and appetites in which I indulge, and are they regulated by the dictates of reason and the law of God? What are my great and governing views in life Are they correspondent to the will of my Creator, and to the eternal destination that awaits me ! Wherein do I place my highest happiness 2 In the pleasures of sense, or in the pleasures of intellect and religion,-in the creature or in the Creator? How have I hitherto employed my moral powers and capacities 3 How do I stand affected towards my brethren of mankind? Do I hate, or envy, or despise any of them 7 Do I grudge them prosperity, wish them evil, or purposely injure and affront them 7 Or do I love them as brethren of the same family, do them all the good in roy power, acknowledge their excellencies, and rejoice in their happiness and prosperity ? Such inquiries and self-examinations, when
seriously conducted, would necessarily lead to the most beneficial moral results. In leading us to a knowledge of our errors and defects, they would teach us the excellency of humility, the reasonableness of this virtue, and the foundation on which it rests, and of course, the folly of pride, and of all those haughty and supercilious teinpers which are productive of so much mischief and unhappiness, both in the higher and the lower spheres of life. Pride is uniformly the offspring of self-ignorance. For, if a man will but turn his eyes within, and thoroughly scrutinize himself, so as to perceive his errors and follies, and the germs of vice which lodge in his heart, as well as the low rank he holds in the scale of creation, he would see enough to teach him humbleness of mind, and to render a proud disposition odious and detestable, and inconsistent with the relations in which he stands to his Creator, to his fellow-creatures, and to the universe at large. Such mental investigations would also lead to self-possession, under affronts and injuries, and amidst the hurry and disorder of the passions,—to charity, candour, meekness, and moderation, in regard to the sentiments and conduct of others, to the exercise of self-denial, to decorum and consistency of character, to a wise and steady conduct in life, and to an intelligent performance of the offices of piety and the duties of religion. But how can we ever expect that an ignorant uncultivated mind, unaccustomed to a regular train of rational thought, can enter, with spirit and intelligence, on the process of self-examination ? It requires a certain portion, at least, of information, and a habit of reflection, before a man can be qualified to engage in such an exercise; and these qualifications can only be attained by the exercise which the mind receives in the acquisition of general knowledge.—If, then, it be admitted, that self-ignorance is the original spring of all the follies and incongruities we behold in the characters of men, and the cause of all that vanity, censoriousness, malignancy, and vice which abound in the world ; and, is self-knowledge would tend to counteract such immoral dispositions, we must endeavour to communicate a certain portion of knowledge to mankind, to fit them for the cxercise of self-examination and self-inspection, before we can expect that the moral world will be renovated, and “all iniquity, as ashamed, hide its head, and stop its mouth.” 5. Knowledge, by expanding the mind, will enable it to take a clear and comprehensive view of the motives, bearings, tendencies, and consequences of moral actions. A man possessed of a truly enlightened mind, must have his moral sense, or conscience, much more sensible and tender, and more judiciously directed, than that of a person whose understanding is beclouded with ignorance. When he has to choose be
tween good and evil, or between good und bet