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Where is the man who can say that no unconscious bias has influenced him in the progress of his investigation? Who shall pronounce that, under very different circumstances, his conclusions would not have been essentially other than they are ?
But the enquiry of an active and a searching mind does not terminate on a certain day. He will be for ever revising and reconsidering his first determinations. It is one of the leading maxims of an honourable mind, that we must be, at all times, and to the last hour of our existence, accessible to conviction built upon new evidence, or upon evidence presented in a light in which it had not before been viewed. If then the probationer for the clerical profession was under some bias in his first investigation, how inust it be expected to be with him, when he has already taken the vow, and received ordination? Can he with a calm and unaltered spirit contemplate the possibility, that the ground shall be cut away from under him, and that, by dint of irrefragable argument, he shall be stripped of his occupation, and turned out naked and friendless into the world :
But this is only one of the broadest and most glaring instances. In every question of paramount importance there is ever a secret influence urging me earnestly to desire to find one side of the
question right and the other wrong. Shall I be a whig or a tory, believe a republic or a mixed monarchy most conducive to the improvement and happiness
of mankind, embrace the creed of free will or necessity? There is in all cases a “strong temptation that waketh in the heart.” Cowardice urges me to become the adherent of that creed, which is espoused by my nearest friends, or those who are most qualified to serve me. Enterprise and a courageous spirit on the contrary bid me embrace the tenet, the embracing of which shall inost conduce to my reputation for extraordinary perspicuity and acuteness, and gain me the character of an intrepid adventurer, a man who dares commit himself to an unknown voyage.
In the question of religion, even when the consideration of the profession of an ecclesiastic does not occur, yet we are taught to believe that there is only one set of tenets that will lead us in the way of salvation. Faith is represented as the first of all qualifications. “If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin.” With what heart then does a man set himself to examine, and scrupulously weigh the evidence on one side and the other, when some undiscerned frailty, some secret bias that all his care cannot detect, may lurk within, and insure for him the "greater condemnation?" I well remember in early life, with what tingling sensation and unknown horror I looked into the books of the infidels and the repositories of unlawful tenets, lest I should be seduced. I held it my duty to “prove all things;" but I knew not how far it might be my fate; to sustain the penalty attendant even upon an honourable and virtuous curiosity.
It is one of the most received arguments of the present day against religious persecution, that the judgments we form are not under the authority of our will, and that, for what it is not in our power to change, it is unjust we should be punished: and there is much truth in this. But it is not true to the fullest extent. The sentiments we shall entertain, are to a considerable degree at the disposal of inticements on the one side, and of menaces and apprehension on the other. That which we wish to believe, we are already greatly in progress to embrace; and that which will bring upon us disgrace and calamity, we are more than half prepared to reject. Persecution however is of very equivocal power: we cannot embrace one faith and reject another at the word of command.
It is a curious question to decide how far punishments and rewards may be made effectual to determine the religion of nations and generations of men. They are often unsuccessful. There is a feeling in the human heart, that prompts us to reject with indignation this species of tyranny. We become more obstinate in clinging to that which we are commanded to discard. We place our honour and our pride in the firmness of our resistance. “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” Yet there is often great efficacy in persecution. It was the policy of the court of Versailles that brought almost to nothing the Huguenots of France. And there is a degree of persecution, if the persecuting
party has the strength and the inexorableness to employ it, that it is perhaps beyond the prowess of human nature to stand up against.
The mind of the enquiring man is engaged in a course of perpetual research ; and ingenuousness prompts us never to be satisfied with the efforts that we have made, but to press forward. But mind, as well as body, has a certain vis inertia, and moves only as it is acted upon by impulses from without. With respect to the adopting new opinions, and the discovery of new truths, we must be indebted in the last resort, either to books, or the oral communications of our fellow-men, or to ideas immediately suggested to us by the phenomena of man or nature. The two former are the ordinary causes of a change of judgment to men: they are for the most part minds of a superior class only, that are susceptible of hints derived straight from the external world, without the understandings of other men intervening, and serving as a conduit to the new conceptions introduced. The two former serve, so to express it, for the education of man, and enable us to master, in our own persons, the points already secured, and the wisdom laid
in the great magazine of human knowledge; the last imparts to us the power of adding to the stock, and carrying forward by one step and another the improvements of which our nature is susceptible.
It is much that books, the unchanging records of the thoughts of men in former ages, are able to
impart to us. For many of the happiest moments of our lives, for many of the purest and most exalted feelings of the human heart, we are indebted to them. Education is their province; we derive from them civilization and refinement; and we may affirm of literature, what Otway has said of woman, “We had been brutes without you.” It is thus that the acquisitions of the wise are handed down from age to age, and that we are enabled to mount step after step on the ladder of paradise, till we reach the skies.
But, inestimable as is the benefit we derive from books, there is something more searching and soul-stirring in the impulse of oral communication. We cannot shut our ears, as we shut our books; we cannot escape from the appeal of the man who addresses us with earnest speech and living conviction. It is thus, we are told, that, when Cicero pleaded before Cæsar for the life of Ligarius, the conqueror of the world was troubled, and changed colour again and again, till at length the scroll prepared for the condemnation of the patriot fell from his hand. Sudden and irresistible conviction is chiefly the offspring of living speech. We may arm ourselves against the arguments of an author; but the strength of reasoning in him who addresses us, takes us at unawares. It is in the reciprocation of answer and rejoinder that the power of conversion specially lies.' A book is an abstraction. It is but imperfectly that we feel, that a real man addresses