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and among the inhabitants of the earth.” “He hath prepared his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom ruleth over all.” “When I consider thy heavens—what is man, that thou art mindfull of him?” It would be easy to show, were it expedient in the present case, that all such expressions and representations, embody in them the idea of a plurality of worlds, without which they would appear either inexplicable, or as a species of bombast, unworthy of the character of inspired writers. So that, to whatever department of nature we direct our contemplations, we perceive its correspondence with the sentiments expressed in the sacred writings, and find in these writings the most sublime and appropr ate language in which to express those emotions which the diversified scenes of the material world are calculated to inspire. We may now ask, if such an assertion can be made, in truth, with regard to any other writings, ancient or modern, whose sentinents have not been derived srom the sacred oracles 7 Can we find in the writings of all the poets, philosophers and orators of Greece and Rome, sentiments so dignified, appropriate and sublime, in relation to the objects to which we have alluded ? Do not such writers frequently misrepresent and even caricature the system of nature ? Are not their descriptions of the gods, and the actions they attribute to them, in many instances, mean, ridiculous, unworthy of the character of superior beings, and even in the highest degree immoral and profane 3 And, if we turn to the literature and the sacred books of the Chinese, the Persians, the Hindoos or the Japanese, shall we find any thing superior? And is not the circumstance to which we have adverted, a strong presumptive evidence that the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament were written under the inspiration of the Almighty; and consequently, that they are “profitable for doctrine, for reproof, and for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be made perfect, and thoroughly surnished unto all good works 7” Such is a brief view of some of the advantages which may be derived from history and general science in the study of the Scriptures. There is, indeed, scarcely a branch of useful knowledge, of whatever description, but may be rendered in some way or another, subservient to the elucidation of the sacred oracles, and in enabling us to take a wide and comprehensive view of the facts and doctrines they declare. Were the great body of mankind, therefore, instructed in general knowledge, and accustomed to raioonal investigations, they would be enabled to study the Scriptures with much greater interest and intelligence than they can now be supposed to do. They would perceive the beauty and sublimity of their language, the dignity and excellence of the sentiments they contain, the purity of their toctrines, and the beneficent tendency of their
moral precepts; and, by familiarizing their minus with the numerous and multifarious facts they exhibit, and comparing them with the history of na tions, and with passing events, they would gradually acquire an enlightened and comprehensive view of God's superintending providence. The study of the Scriptures, in their native simplicity, with the helps now alluded to, and without intermixture of the technical language of theologians, and of party opinions, would be of vast importance in religion. It would convince the unbiassed inquirer how little foundation there is in the Scriptures themselves, for many of those numerous disputes about metaphysical dogmas, which have rent the Christian world into a number of shreds and patches, and produced jealousy and animosity, where love and affection should have appeared predominant. He would soon be enabled to perceive, that the system of Revelation thiefly consists of a series of important facts, connected with the dispensations of God towards our race, and interwoven with a variety of practical and interesting truths; and that the grand design of the whole is to counteract the effects of moral evil, to display the true character of Deity, to promote love to God and man, to inculcate the practice of every heavenly virtue, and to form mankind into one harmonious and affectionate society. He would find none of the technical terms and phraseology which the schoolmen and others have introduced into their systems of theology; nor any of those anathemas, which one sectary has so frequently levelled at another, applied to any one, excepting to those “who love not our Lord Jesus in sincerity.” IIe would naturally be led to the conclusion, that what is not clearly and explicitly stated in the Scriptures, or but obscurely hinted at, in reference to the external government of the church or any other subject, cannot be a matter of primary importance, and consequently, ought never to be the subject of virulent dispute, or the cause of dissension or separation among Christians—and that those things only are to be considered as the prominent and distinguishing truths of religion which are the most frequently reiterated, and expressed with such emphasis, and perspicuity, that “he who runs may read them.” Again, such an intelligent study of the Scriptures as would accompany the acquisition of general knowledge, would have a tendency to promote the union of the Christian church. Ignorance and distorted views of the truths of revelation are almost uniformly accompanied with illiberality and self-conceit ; and where these prevail, silly prejudices are fostered, and party opinions tenaciously adhered to, and magnified into undue importance. But an enlightened mind.—the farther it advances in the path of knowledge and in the study of the Sacred Oracles, the more will it perceive the limited nature of its faculties, and the difficulty of deciding on certain mysterious doctrines; and consequently, the more will it be disposed to grant to every other mind a liberty of thought on subordinate religious subjects, and to make every allowance for those educational prejudices and other causes which have a tendency to warp the mind to certain favourite opinions. And, when such a disposition more generally prevails, and is accompanied with the exercise of Christian love and moderation--the spirit of party will be gradually undermined, and all who recognise the grand and essential features of genuine Christianity will unite in one lovely and harmonious society. But, so long as ignorance and habits of mental inactivity prevail among the great body of the population, such a happy consummation cannot be expected.” In short, were the Sacred writings studied with reverence and attention, and those departments of knowledge to which I have alluded brought forward to assist in their investigation, Infidelity would soon feel ashamed of its ignorance and impertinence, and hide its head in retirement and obscurity. It is owing, in a great measure, to ignorance of the Scriptures, that so many avowed infidels are to be found in society. “They speak evil of the things which they know not;” “their mouth speaketh great swelling words” of vanity against truths which they never investigated, and which, of course, they do not understand. Even some of those who have attempted to write against revelation are not ashamed to avow, that they have never either read or studied the writings it contains. Paine, one of the most virulent adversaries of Christianity, had the esfrontery to affirm, that, when he wrote the first part of his “Age of Reason,” he was without a Bible. “Afterwards,” he tells us, in schoolboy language, “I procured a Bible and a Testament.” Who, but an arrant fool would have made such a declaration, and thus have proclaimed his own impertinence and folly 7 and who would have listened with patience to such an impudent avowal, had it been made in relation to any other subject? For, to attempt to answer a book which one had not read, is surely the height of presumption and impudence, and plainly indicates, that the mind was previously prejudiced against it, and determined to oppose its sentiments. Others have iooked into the Bible, and skimmed over its contents, with the express purpose of finding saults and contradictions. Emerson the mathematician, having imbibed a disrelish for the Scriptures, endeavoured to satisfy his mind that they were not divine, by picking out a number of insulated passages, which he conceived to be contradictions, and set them, one opposite to another, in two separate columns, and then was bold enough to aver that he had proved the Bible to be an imposture. Is it any wonder that men
." For amore full illustration of this topic, see Sec.
who presume to act in this manner should never come to the knowled -e of the truth 7 What book in the world would stand such an ordeal f There is no treatise on any subject whalever, which, is treated in this manner, might not be made to appear a mass of absurdities and contradictions. If the Bible is to be read at all, it must be perused both with reverence and with in. telligence; and there is no one who enters on the study of it, in such a state of mind, but will soon perceive, that it contains “the witness in itself.” that it is from God, and will feel, that it is “quick and powerful” in its appeals to the conscience, and a “searcher of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” But he who reads it either with scorn, with negligence, or with prejudice, needs not wonder if he shall find himself only confirmed in his folly and unbelies. “For a scorner seeketh wisdom, and findeth it not ; but knowledge is easy unto him that hath understanding. I have dwelt, at considerable length, on the topic of Christianity, because it is a subject of peculiar interest and importance to every individual. If, in systeins of education, and in the means by which mankind at large may be enlightened and improved, the knowledge of religion be overlooked, and its moral requisitions disregarded, more evil than good may be the result of the dissemination of general and scientific knowledge. We have a proof of this in the scenes of anarchy, licentiousness and horror which succeeded the first French revolution, when revealed religion was publicly discar led, and atheism, infidelity and fatalism, accompanied with legalized plundering, became “the order of the day.” If knowledge is not consecrated to a moral purpose, and prosecuted with a reference to that immortal existence to which we are destined, the utility of its general diffusion might be justly called in question. But, when prosecuted in connexion with the important discoveries of revelation, it has a tendency to raise man to the highest dignity of which his nature is susceptible, and to prepare him for more exalted pursuits and enjoyments in the life to come.
JMiscellaneous Advantages of Knowledge briefly stated.
In this section, I shall briefly advert to several advantages which would flow from a general diffusion of knowledge, not directly included in those which have already been stated.
I. Minds tutored in knowledge and habits of reflection, would be led to form just estimates of human character and enjoyment.
The bulk of mankind are apt to form a false estimate of the characters of men, from consider
ing only those adventitious circumstances in which they are placed, and those external trappings with which they are adorned. Wherever wealth and splendour, and high-sounding titles have taken up their residence, the multitude fall down and worship at their shrine. The natural and acquired endowments of the mind are seldom appreciated and respected, unless they are clothed with a dazzling exterior. A man of genius, of virtue and of piety, is not distinguished from the common herd of mankind, unless he can asford to live in an elegant mansion, to entertain convivial parties, and to mingle with the fashionable and polite. The poor and ignorant peasant looks up with a kind of veneration to my lord and my lady, as if they were a species of superior beings, though, perhaps, with the exception of a few triding accomplishments, they are scarcely raised above the level of the vulgar whom they despise, in respect to intellectual attainments; and they are often far beneath them in those morai accomplishments which constitute the true glory of man,—being too frequently the slaves of many foolish caprices and unhallowed passions. To pay homage to mere titles, rank or riches, has a tendency to degrade the human mind, and has been the source of all that vassalage, slavery and despotism which have prevailed in the world. On the other hand, the man of rank and sashion looks down with a species of disdain, and considers as unworthy of his notice, the man of talent, or the rational inquirer after truth, if he is clad in a homely dress, and possessed of only a small share of wealth; because, forsooth, he is unqualified to accompany him to horse-races, assemblies, masquerades, and other fashionable entertainments. Many an individual of superlative worth and merit has been thus overlooked by his superiors in rank, and even by the great body of his fellow-men, and has passed through the world almost unnoticed and unknown, except by a few minds congenial to his own. For the beauties and excellencies of mind can only be perceived and appreciated by those whose mental faculties have been, in some degree, enlightened and improved, and who are qualified to estimate the value of a jewel, although its casket may be
formed of coarse materials, and besmeared with
sand and mud. The multitude form no less erroneous estimates in regard to human happiness. Having felt little other misery than that which arises from poverty, want, or excessive labour, they are apt to imagine, that where riches abound, and the avenues to every sensitive enjoyment are free and unobstructed, there misery can scarely gain admittance, and the greatest share of human happiness must be sound ; that where there is wealth there can be little sorrow, and that those who glide along in splendour and affluence can scarcely 're acquainted with the cares and anxieties which wress so heavily upon the rest of mankind.
Hence the ruling passion, which distinguishes the majority of mankind, to aspire after elevated station and rank, and to accumulate riches, although it should be at the expense of trainpling under foot every social duty, and every moral principle, and even at the risk of endangering life itself. Hence, the idie and the vicious are led to imagine, that if they can but lay hold of wealth, whether by fraud, by deceit, or by open violence, they will be able to administer nutriment to those desires which, when gratified, will complete their happiness. It is evident, that nothing can be supposed more effectual for counteracting such fallacious tendencies of the human mind, than the cultivation of reason, the expanding of the intellectual faculties, and the habit of applying the principles of knowledge to the diversified phenomena of human character and conduct. The man whose mind is accustomed to investigation, and to take an extensive range through the regions ot science, and who considers his mental powers as the chief characteristic by which he is distinguished in the scale of animal existence, will naturally be guided in his estimates of human character, by moral and intellectual considerations. His eye will easily penetrate through the thin veil of exterior and adventitious accompaniments, and appreciate what alone is worthy of regard in the characters of men, whether they be surrounded by wealth and splendour, or immersed in poverty or obscurity. And with respect to human happiness, a person of this description will easily enter into such a train of reasoning as the following, and feel its force :-That, in respect of wealth, what we cannot reach may very well be forborne; that the inequality of happiness on this account is, for the most part, much less than it seems; that the greatness which we admire at a distance, has much fewer advantages, and much less splendour, when we are suffered to approach it; that the happiness which we imagine to be found in high life, is much alloyed and diminished by a variety of foolish passions and domestic cares and anxieties, of which we are generally ignorant ; and that the apparent infelicity of the lower stations in society is frequently moderated by various moral and domestic comforts, unknown to many of those who occupy the highest ranks of social life. There is a certain portion of external enjoyment without which no man can be happy; and there is a certain portion of wealth to procure this enjoyment which every rank of society ought to possess, and which even the lowest ranks would obtain, were the movements of the social machine properly conducted. But, to pursue riches, with all the violence of passion, as the chief end of our being, is not only degrading to our intellectual natures, and tends to block up the avenues to tranquil enjoyment, but is fraught with toil and anxiety and innumerable hazards. “Wealth,” says a v-on wors! writer, “is nothing in itself; it is not six-rul our vihen it departs from us; its value is found -a'y in that which it can purchase, which, if we ou;"| ose it put to its best use by those that possess i:, seems not much to deserve the desire or envy of a wise man. It is certain, that with regard to corporeal enjoyment, money can neither open new avenues to pleasure, nor block up the passages of anguish. Disease and infirmity still contince to torture and enfeeble, perhaps exasperated by luxury, or promoted by softness. With respec. to the mind, it has rarely been observed, that wealth contributes much to quicken the discerni,wnt, enlarge the capacity, or elevate the imagication; but may, by hiring flattery, or laying di..', eace asleep, confirm error and harden stupidity.” Such are some of the views and principles by which an enlightened mind will naturally estimate the characters and enjoyments of mankind. Were the great body of the population in every country qualified to enter into such reasonings, and to feel the force of such considerations, it could not fall of being accompanied with many beneficial effec's. It would temper that foolish adulation which ignorance and imbecility so frequently offer at the shrine of wealth and spiendour; and would undermine those envious and discontented dispositions with which the lower ranks are apt to view the riches and possessions of the great. As moral principles and conduct, associated with intelligence, are the only proper objects of respect in the human character, it would lead persons to form a judgment of the true dignity of man, not by the glitter of affluence, or the splendour of equipage, but by those moral and intellectual qualities and endowments, which, in every station, demands our regard, and which constitute the real glory of the human character. It would tend to counteract the principle of Avarice, which has produced so many miseries and mischiefs in society, and to promote that Contentment under the allotmen's of Divine Providence in which consists the chief part of the happiness of mankind. And while it would counteract the tendency to foolish and immoral pursuits, it would direct to those rational pursuits and enjoyments which are pure and permanent. and congenial to the high dignity and destination of man. In short, were the attention of the higher and influential classes turned away from hounding and horse-racing, masquerades, gambling, and such like frivolous amusements, and directed to the study of useful science. we might expect to behold them patronising philantrophic and scientific characters in their plans and investigations, and devoting a portion of their wealth to carry forward those improvements by which the comforts of mankind would be increased, and science and art carried nearer to perfection. The twentieth part of that wealth which is too frequently spent in fashionable follies,
were it devoted to such purposes, would be of incalculable service to the interests both of humanity and of science.
II. The acquisition of general knowledge would enable persons to profit by their attendance on public instructions.
In the present day, lectures on popular philosophy, astronomy, chemistry, geology, and political economy are occasionally delivered in the principal cities and towns of Great Britain ; but, out of a population of thirty or forty thousand, it frequently happens, that scarcely thirty or sory individuals can be collected to listen to instructions on such subjects. This, no doubt, is partly owing to the see demanded for admission, which is sometimes beyond the reach of many intelligent persons in the lower walks of life. But it is chiefly owing to the want of taste for such branches of knowledge—to ignorance of the elements of general science—and to unacquaintance with the terms which require to be used in the explanation of such subjects, arising from the want of intellectual instruction in early life. Even of the few who generally attend such lectures, there is not perhaps the one half who can enter with intelligence into the train of reasoning and illustration brought forward by the lecturer, or feel much interest in the discussions, excepting when their eyes are dazzled with some flashy experiment. Hence it follows, that very little knowledge comparatively can be communicated in this way to the population at large, owing to the deficiency of previous instruction,-and that systems of intellectual education, more extensive and efficient than those which have hitherto been in operation, require to be adopted, before the great body of the people can be supposed to profit by attendance on courses of lectures on any department of knowledge.
The same remark will apply, with a few modifications, to the instructions, delivered by the teachers of religion. For vant of a proper foundation being previously laid, in the exercise of the rational faculty, and the acquisition of general information, comparatively little advantage is derived from the sermons and expository lectures delivered by the ministers of the Gospel. Of a thousand individuals which may compose a worshipping a-sembly where religious instructions are imparted, there are seldom above two hnndred (and most frequently much fewer) that can give any intelligent account of the train of thought which has been pursued, or the topics which have been illustrated in the discourses to which they have professed to listen. This may be owing, in many instances, to the dry and abstract method by which certain pro achers construct their discourses, and to the want of energy, and the dull and monotonous manner in which they are delivered. But, in the majority of instances, it is obviously owing to habits of inattention to subjects of an intellectual nature—to an incapacity for following a train of illustration or reasoning—and to the want of acquaintance with the meaning of many terms which theological instructors find it expedient to use in the construction of their discourses—and such deficiencies are to be ascribed to the mental faculties not having been exercised from infancy in the pursuit of knowledge and in rational investigations. This deficiency of knowledge and intellectual culture seems to be virtually acknowledged by the ministers of religion; since, in their general discourses, they confine themselves, for the most part, to the elucidation of the first principles of religion. Instead of exhibiting a luminous and comprehensive view of the whole scenery of divine revelation, and illustrating its various parts from the history of nations, the system of nature, and the scenes of human life—they generally confine their discussions to a few topics connected with what are termed the fundamental doctrines of the Gospel. Instead of “going on to perfection,” as the Apostle Paul exhorts, by tracing the elements of Christianity in all their bearings on moral conduct and Christian contemplation, and endeavouring to carry forward the mind to the most enlarged views of the perfections of God and the “glory of his kingdom”—they feel themselves under the necessity of recurring again and again to “the first principles of the doctrine o Christ”—seeding their hearers “with milk” instead of “strong meat.” And the reason assigned for waiving the consideration of the more sublime topics of natural and revealed religion, and thus limiting the subject of their discussions, is that their hearers are unqualified to follow them in the arguments and illustrations which behoved to be brought forward on such subjects—that such an attempt would be like speaking to the winds or beating the air, and would infallibly mar their edification. If this reason be valid. (and that it is partly so there can be little doubt) it implies, that some glaring deficiency must exist in the mental culture of the great body of professing Christians, and that it ought to be remedied by every proper mean, in order that they may be qualified to advance in the knowledge of the attributes, the works, and the ways of God, and to “go on unto perfection.” It is foretold in the sacred oracles, that “men shall speak of the might of God's terrible acts.” that “his saints shall speak of the glory of his kingdom. and talk ..f his power, to make known to the sons of men his mighty operations and the glorious majesty of his kingdom.” This prediction has never yet been fulfilled in reference to the great body of the Christian chu, ch. For, where do we find one out of twenty among the hearers of the Gospel capable of rehearsing the “terrible acts” of God, either in his moral or his physical operations—of tracing the dispensations
of his providence towards nations and communi ties, in a connected series, from the commencement of time, through the successive periods of history—and of comparing the desolations of cities and the ruin of empires with the declarations of ancient prophecy 7 Where do we find one out of a hundred capable of expatiating on the “power” of Jehovah, and on the most striking displays of this perfection which are exhi. bited throughout the vast creation ? Or where shall we find those who are qualified to display the magnificence of that empire which is “es. tablished in the heavens,” embracing within its boundaries thousands of suns and ten thousands of worlds—or “to speak,” with intelligence, “of the glory of that kingdom which ruleth over all,” and thus “to make known to others the mighty operations” carried on by Jehovah, “and the glorious majesty of his kingdom?” It is obvious that no such qualifications yet exist among the majority of members which compose the visible church. And yet the predictions to which we refer must be realized, at some period or another, in the history of the divine dispensations. And is it not desirable that they should, in some degree, be realized in our own times 2 And, if so, ought we not to exert all our influence and ener. gies in endeavouring to accomplish so important and desirable an object 7 And, in what manner are our energies in this respect to be exerted, but in concerting and executing, without delay, plans for the universal intellectual instruction of mankind? For, without the communication of knowledge to a far greater extent, and much more diversified than what has even yet been considered necessary for ordinary Christians, we can never expect to behold in the visible church “saints” endowed with such sublime qualifications as those to which we have alluded, or the approach of that auspicious era when “all shall know the Lord,” in the highest sense of the expression, “from the least even to the greatest.” To obtain a comprehensive, and as far as possible, a complete view of the system of revelation in all its parts and bearings, and to be enabied to comply with all its requirements, is both the duty and the interest of every man. But, in order to this attainment, there must be acquired a certain habit of thinking and of meditating. In vain does a person turn over whole volumes, and attempt to peruse catechisms, bodies of divinity, or even the Scriptures themselves, he can never comprehend the dependencies, connexions and bearings of divine truth, and the facts they explain and illustrate, unless he acquire a habit of arranging ideas, of laying down principles, and deducing conclusions. But this habit cannot be acquired without a continued series of instructions, especially in the early part of life, accompanied with serious attention and profound application. For want of such pre-requisites the great body of Christians do not reap half the be.