« ПретходнаНастави »
learning is always gloomy to the possessor. Every thing which should have been a benefit to bim becomes a burthen. The calm and silence which should dispose to meditation induces only melancholy. In the leisure to which the contemplative mind returns as to its home, the person we speak of sees nothing but a banishment from recreation or cheerfulness. There is no greater difference in the human character than in the disposition of different men towards retirement. The longing with which some seek, the delight with which they enjoy, and the reluctance with which they leave it, contrasted with the impatience by which others endure, or the fear with which they dread it, form an opposition of choice and temper both remarkable in itself, and upon which the happiness of individuals and their suitableness for the station which they occupy, very much depend.
It can admit of no question which of these two is the temper for a clergyman. That which is desirable by him, I think by all, but certainly by him, results from the conduct of the mind, when it is not acted upon by strong internal impressions; from the power at those times of commanding the objects of its thoughts, and directing it to such as will detain its attention, exercise its faculties, and reward its pursuits. This ability cannot subsist without a love of knowledge, and, what must always accompany a love of knowledge, or rather indeed is the thing itself, a taste and relish for instructive reading. This being felt, retirement is no longer either slothful or tedious, leisure tasteless, or even solitude without support.
Perhaps no moments are passed with so much complacency as those which a scholar spends in his study; none with less perception of their weight or tardiness, less sense of restlessness or desire of change; I will add, none in which alacrity of spirits is better sustained. Few things are more exhilarating than the successful investigation of an important truth; or even where probability alone is attainable, the discovery or prosecution of a just argument is an employment always grateful to a sound and cultivated understanding. It seems scarcely necessary that we should mention the pleasures which are derived from every branch of elegant literature. It is a recommendation likewise of this mode of passing our time, that it is without expense of fortune; and a still greater, that it is never followed by disgust or reproach.
But what, it will be asked, shall we study? I am supplied with an answer to the question by the very terms of our ordination service, which, after having stated the weightiness of our office and its duties, exhorts us with much solemnity to draw all our cares and studies this way ;' in which words two things are implied ; first, that the more directly our studies bear upon the separate object of our profession, the better they fulfil the obligations which we have undertaken. It cannot be doubted but that the reading to which Timothy was to give attendance related closely to the mission in which he was engaged; most likely, that it was confined to the Jewish scriptures; to the law, as they were then divided, the psalms, and the prophets. If St Paul has nowhere spoken with respect, and sometimes disparagingly, of the learning of his age and country, it was for two reasons which do not apply to us; one, that this learning was in a great degree frivolous; the other, that any learning was unnecessary for an apostle, his knowledge of some points being inspired, of others original, immediate, and sensible. With believers of future ages the case is different. What the apostles saw with their eyes, and handled with their hands, of the word of life, we must discover by inquiry and research. They knew with certainty, and they testified with courage; but their knowledge and testimony can only reach us through the medium of a dead language, and by the interpretation of ancient records. The subject also of divine revelation itself we approach with more advantage, for being prepared with the information which composes and constitutes the basis of natural religion.
Therefore, secondly, I do not consider the injunction at our ordination as prohibiting to us all other studies, but rather as requiring from us that, whatever be the study which we have chosen, we make it subservient to the diffusion and illustration of Christianity. Draw it this way, and I believe what the precept of our liturgy directs us to do to be more practicable than is generally understood. Have languages been the early and favorite subject of our studies, have we possessed ourselves of that golden key which unlocks the treasures of the ancient world, it is that we may employ our acquirements in elucidating the writings which transmit to us the history and canon of our faith. When the works of ancient authors are to be explained, grammar and criticism must lend their aid, let the subject of which they treat be what it will. In none certainly is this aid more wanted than in those in which the ideas expressed are not ideas of sense. Sciences still more remote from religion in appearance, will be found capable of being brought into connexion with it. Are we geometricians, algebraists, or analysts, it is in order to become sound and accurate philosophers; and of true philosophy the first business is to explore and to display the agency of a benevolent power. For instance, there exists not so decisive a proof of design, and of contrivance to accomplish it, as in the structure of the eye of animals; but this proof, and indeed this contrivance entirely depends upon optical principles; which principles can only be known and explained by the application of a very subtle geometry.
Observe, therefore, how we ascend from lines and angles to the most momentous and sublime truths. These enable us to trace the action of different surfaces and different media upon rays of light; which being ascertained, we discover in the organ of vision an apparatus, complex indeed, which increases the wonder, but accurately adapted to that action. What is this but to discover God?
The same remark, if not more true, is perhaps still more striking, when applied to astronomy. Not the conjecture, for active imaginations can conjecture any thing, but the demonstration of that system, is justly ranked amongst the noblest efforts of the human intellect. Yet could it be conceived, unless we knew it to be so, that whilst Newton and his predecessors in the same studies were investigating the properties of a conic section, they were tracing the finger of the Almighty in the heavens? Nor let it be said that this is foreign from Christianity; for the presence in the universe of a supreme mind being once established upon these principles, the business of religion is half done. Of such a being we can never cease to think. We shall receive with readiness the history of his dispensations, and with deeper submission every intimation of his will. Of the several branches of natural history the application is more obvious. They all tend to the discovery or confirmation of a just theology; they inspire those sentiments which Christianity wishes to find in her disciples.
But here we are met by a reflection more than sufficiently discouraging, arising from the imbecility of our faculties, and the frequent disappointment and unsatisfactoriness of our inquiries. Did learning, in the several subjects upon which it is employed, turn darkness into light, doubt into certainty, or always remove our difficulties, every step in its progress would be marked by pleasure and contentment; but a different representation is nearer to the truth. Some doubts will continue, some difficulties will remain, in a great degree such as they were, and new ones will spring up. Yet much, after all these deductions, will be gained; and for the rest, we have the con
sciousness to rely upon, that we have discharged our duty to the subject and the inquiry, according to the measure of our faculties and opportunities, and the assurance, that having done this, neither ignorance, nor doubt, nor error, will be imputed to us as voluntary offences; that although they may sometimes perplex, as they will do, or distress us here, we have nothing to fear from their consequences hereafter. Much, I say, will after all be gained; and in no article of satisfaction shall we perceive the advantage of a contemplative life more than in that fixedness of temper by which we shall be taught to view the changes and chances of a transitory world. Many secular studies have this tendency. When a philosopher surveys the magnificence and stability of nature, seen in regions of immeasurable space, worlds revolving round worlds with inconceivable rapidity, yet with such exactness as to be found to circumvolve at the point where they are expected; or when he sees upon the globe which he inhabits the same nature proceeding in her grand and beneficial operations with unconcerned regularity; when from these speculations his mind is carried to observe the strifes and contentions of men, the rise and decline of their institutions and establishments, what does he experience in the greatest of these changes but the little vicissitudes of little things ? Again, when he advances his meditations from the works of nature to its Author, his attributes, his dispensations, his promises, his word, his will ; most especially, when he looks to the wonders and the mercies of a renovated existence, to the tutelary hand of his Creator conducting him safely through the different stages of his being, through the grave and gate of death to an order of things disposed and appointed for the reward of faith and virtue, as the present is for trial and improvement; when he reflects how entirely this change supersedes all others, how fast it approaches, and how soon it will take place, in what a state of inferiority, I had almost said of indifference, is every interest placed in which it is not included? And if ever there was a time when that steadfastness of mind, which ought to result from the study and contemplation of divine subjects, is more wanted than at another, it is the present. It is our lot to live in a disturbed and eventful period. During the concussions which have shaken, and are yet shaking, the social edifice to its foundation; in the fate which we have seen of every thing man calls great,
of power, of wealth, and splendor ; where shall thought find refuge, except in the prospects which Christianity unfolds, and in a well grounded confidence that Christianity is true ? And this support will not fail us. Erect amidst the ruins of a tottering age, the pilgrim proceeds in his course without perturbation or dismay; endeavouring, indeed, according to his power,
, and interceding earnestly for, the peace and welfare of a world through which he is but directing his constant eye to a more abiding city ; to that country beyond the great river, to which the sojourning tribes are bound, and where there remaineth rest for the people of God.
MATTHEW XI. 3.
Art thou he that should come, or do we look for another?
The advent of Jesus Christ into the world, which the order of our public service proposes at this season to our thoughts, the appearance he made, and the character he assumed, compared with the circumstances and expectations of the age and country in which he lived, contain attestations to the truth of the evangelical history which I shall make it my business, as it will not be 'unsuitable to the occasion, to lay before you; and suggest reflections which will serve, both to confirm the truth of our religion, and to explain some points and passages of the New Testament which are well deserving of observation.
It is clearly to be collected from scripture, that about the time of our Lord's coming, some great person, who was to be called Messiah or Christ, by the Jews, was expected to appear amongst them, who also would prove a mighty chief and conqueror, and by the aid, it should seem, of supernatural powers, not only deliver the Jewish nation from the subjection into which they had been brought to the Roman government, but place that nation and himself at the head of them, in the highest condition of prosperity, and in possession of the universal empire of the world. Traces of this opinion, both of the coming of this extraordinary person, and of what he was to do when he did come, are dispersed in various parts of the New Testament. •Art thou he that should come, or do we look for another?' When Christ cometh, will he do more,' or do