« SebelumnyaLanjutkan »
continually asserts both in this book of Proverbs, and in that of Ecclesiastes, (both of which are well worthy of our diligent study and most attentive consideration) that wisdom is highly preferable to any other earthly blessing or advantage.
Upon all accounts therefore, (even without regarding him as an inspired writer) this great and wise man's deliberate opinion in any matter is of the highest value and authority. And what says he, at the very commencement of that book, every sentence of which is an excellent maxim of prudence or piety? Does he begin by extolling human knowledge, by discoursing on the delights of elegant literature, the beauties of poetical fiction, the advantage of acquaintance with history, with the depths of philosophy, with the subtilties of science, with the refinements of art, even with the wonders of nature, the very best source, after all, of human learning? No, my brethren, his mind was intent on higher things than these; the "understanding heart," which God had given him, was not so captivated with worldly wisdom. as to fail to perceive that there was a very superior description of knowledge, one much more worthy of man's attainment, without which indeed every other was but meagre, and unprofitable, and unsatisfactory, only so much learned
Hear his own
ignorance. And what was this? words again, "the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge." How delightful it is to hear so wise a man laying down this fundamental principle! to hear him, from whom crowds of admirers came to receive instruction, instead of making an ostentatious display of his varied information, declaring that there was no wisdom to be compared with that of adoring and serving God! and what a severe rebuke is it to those would-be-wise men who know, or desire to know, every thing else which men can learn, but without a thought of that which should be their first and chiefest study.
You will not suspect me, my brethren, of an intention to depreciate human learning, or of holding the opinion that the mind of man is more open to receive the impressions of religion in proportion to its want of cultivation; on the contrary, extensive knowledge and a good understanding, if the heart be well disposed, are great helps and ornaments to religion, and truly gratifying is it to behold all these things combined in the same character, as they were in that of Solomon; nor do I doubt, since God is infinitely wise, as well as infinitely good, and man's highest ambition ought to be that he may recover as far as possible the divine image, which sin has effaced
from his soul, for these reasons I doubt not, that although advancement in holiness should be our principal aim, yet we ought not to neglect the improvement of our understandings.
The powers of the intellect are as much a gift of God, as the affections of the heart; and we are responsible for the use and direction of both. I trust it is by no means true, that the one cannot be cultivated without proportionate injury to the other; I rather hope that both together may illustrate and adorn the Christian life, as light and heat are united in those rays which illuminate the material world.
Very far, therefore, should I be from any inclination to join in a cry which has heretofore been raised, "Destroy every book except the Bible;" for so, although no doubt tares would be got rid of, yet much wheat would be rooted up together with them, and we should return to a state such as the world has formerly experienced, but which I should think no wise or religious man would wish ever to see revived,when learning was extinguished, and error and vice triumphed in its fall, and would have overwhelmed the church altogether with their corruptions, had not our divine Saviour promised that the gates of hell should never prevail against it.
But valuable as human learning may be, when
it co-operates with religion, yet separated from it, it is truly worthless and insignificant; and the most ignorant man on earth, who is blessed with a portion of religious wisdom, is wiser than the philosopher, who knoweth the number of the stars and calleth them all by their names, if he is devoid of that "fear of the Lord," which Solomon declares to be the "beginning of knowledge," and "the praise" of which, David says, "endureth for ever." This is what I shall now endeavour to convince you of, partly for the purpose of giving a right direction to the study of those who have much leisure for the cultivation of their minds, and partly for the sake of comforting those, whose necessary occupations render it impossible that they should devote any time to the acquirement of earthly learning, with the assurance that they may attain all the knowledge which is essential to their happiness, and be in reality incomparably wiser than many of those, who in other respects may be qualified to be their teachers.
Knowledge, like every other advantage, is of course only to be valued in proportion as it ministers to our happiness; and that must be the best kind of knowledge from which we are able to derive the highest degree of happiness. I will present you therefore with two extreme cases;-the
one, that of a man who is a proficient in every species of knowledge but religion,--the other, of one who has attained to nothing but a practical and experimental acquaintance with "the fear of the Lord;"-and you shall judge for yourselves, which of these two is the wiser and happier man.
I wish I could say that the former is only an imaginary case; one that is never found to exist, but which I have invented only for the sake of aiding my argument by a striking contrast. But, alas! every one who has seen much of the world, knows it to be of too common occurrence. How many parents are there (for here is very often the root and origin of the evil), so false to the serious charge committed to them (and for which they must render an account), that their only object in the education of their children seems to be that their minds may be filled with human learning, and that they may thus make a figure in the world; upon this they bestow all their pains, and lavish all their expense. The best instructors in every earthly science and accomplishment are sought far and near; and the progress of their unhappy offspring (unhappy in having such misjudging guardians of their youth) is watched with the most intense anxiety and interest, as if every thing depended on the success of this miserably defective plan. Well, the plan we shall suppose