« 上一頁繼續 »
middle path of judgment which the soundest philosophy inculcates. We shall learn, according to the apostolic precept, to “be angry, and sin not,
, neither let the sun go down upon our wrath.” We shall make of our fellow-men neither idols to worship, nor demons to be regarded with horror and execration. We shall think of them, as of players, “ that strut and fret their hour upon the stage, and then are heard no more." We shall 16
We shall “weep, as though we wept not, and rejoice, as though we rejoiced not, seeing that the fashion of this world passeth away.” And, most of all, we shall view with pity, even with sympathy, the men whose frailties we behold, or. by whom crimes are perpetrated, satisfied that they are parts of one great machine, and, like ourselves, are driven forward by impulses over which they have no real control.
One of the prerogatives by which man is eminently distinguished from all other living beings inhabiting this globe of earth, consists in the gift of
Beasts reason. They are instructed by experience; and, guided by what they have already known of the series of events, they infer from the sense of what has gone
before, an assured expectation of what is to follow. Hence, “beast walks with man, joint tenant of the shade ;" and their sagacity is in many instances more unerring than ours, because they have no affectation to mislead them; they follow no false lights, no glimmering intimation of something half-anticipating a result, but trust to the plain, blunt and obvious dictates of their simple apprehension. This however is but the first step in the scale of reason, and is in strictness scarcely entitled to the name.
We set off from the same point from which they commence their career. But the faculty of articulate speech comes in, enabling us to form the crude elements of reason and inference into a code. We digest explanations of things, assigning the particulars in which they resemble other classes, and
the particulars by which they are distinguished from whatever other classes have fallen under our notice. We frame propositions, and, detaching ourselves from the immediate impressions of sense, proceed to generalities, which exist only, in a way confused, and not distinctly adverted to, in the conceptions of the animal creation. It is thus that we arrive at science, and go
forward to those subtleties, and that perspicuity of explanation, which place man in a distinct order of being, leaving' all the other inhabitants of earth at an immeasurable distance below him. It is thus that we communicate our discoveries to each other, and hand down the knowledge we have acquired, unimpaired and entire, through successive ages, and to generations yet unborn.
But in certain respects we pay a very high price for this distinction. It is to it that we must impute all the follies, extravagances and hallucinations of human intellect. There is nothing so absurd that some man has not affirmed, rendering himself the scorn and laughing-stock of persons of sounder understanding. And, which is worst, the more ridiculous and unintelligible is the proposition he has embraced, the more pertinaciously does he cling to it; so that creeds the most outrageous and contradictory have served as the occasion or pretext for the most impassioned debates, bloody wars, inhuman executions, and all that most deeply blots and dishonours the name of man--while often, the more
evanescent and frivolous are the distinctions, the inore furious and inexpiable have been the contentions they have produced.
The result of the whole, in the vast combinations of men into tribes and nations, is, that thousands and millions believe, or imagine they believe, propositions and systems, the terms of which they do not fully understand, and the evidence of which they have not considered. They believe, because so their fathers believed before them. No phrase is more commonly heard than, “ I was born a Christian ;" “I was born a Catholic, or a Protestant."
The priest continues what the nurse began,
But this sort of belief forms no part of the subject of the present Essay. ! My purpose yis to confine myself to the consideration of those persons, who in some degree, more or less, exercise'the reasoning faculty in the pursuit of truth; and, having attempted to examine the evidence of an interesting and weighty proposition, satisfy then selves that they have arrived at a sound conclusion.
It is however the rarest thing in the world, for any one to found his opinion, simply upon the evidence that presents itself to him of the truth of the proposition which comes before him to be examined. Where is the man that breaks loose from all the shackles that in his youth had been imposed upon him, and says to Truth, “Go on; whither
soever thou leadest, I am prepared to follow?" To weigh the evidence for and against a proposition, in scales so balanced, that the “division of the twentieth part of one poor scruple, the estimation of a hair,” shall be recognised and submitted to, is the privilege of a mind of no ordinary fairness and firmness.
The Scriptures say “The heart of man is deceitful above all things.” The thinking principle within us is so subtle, has passed through so many forms of instruction, and is under the influence and direction of such a variety of causes, that no man can accurately pronounce by what impulse he has been led to the conclusion in which he finally reposes. Every ingenuous person, who is invited to embrace a certain profession, that of the church for example, will desire, preparatorily to his final determination, to examine the evidences and the merits of the religion he embraces, that he may enter upon his profession under the influence of a sincere conviction, and be inspired with that zeal, in singleness of heart, which can alone prevent his vocation from being disgraceful to him. Yet how many motives are there, constraining him to abide in an affirmative conclusion? His friends expect this from him. Perhaps his own inclination leads him to select this destination rather than any other. Perhaps preferment and opulence wait upon his decision. If the final result of his enquiries lead him to an opposite judgment, to how much obloquy will he be exposed!