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To attempt to disarm the severity of criticism by humiliation or entreaty would be a hopeless task. Waiving every apology, the author, therefore, has only to remark, that the motives of a writer must ever remain a secret, but the tendency of what he writes is capable of being ascertained; and is in reality the only consideration in which the public are interested. The author is concerned at an unexpected coincidence in the text between this and a very excellent discourse, delivered on a similar occasion, and published by his much esteemed friend, the Rev. Francis Cox. The coincidence was entirely accidental, and the text in each instance being employed very much in the manner of a motto, it is hoped the train of thought will be found sufficiently distinct. He cannot conclude without recommending to the public, and to the young especially, the serious perusal of the abovementioned animated and impressive discourse.
PROVERBS xix. 2.
That the heart be without knowledge, it is not good.
THROUGHOUT every part of this book, the author is copious and even profuse in the praises of knowledge. To stimulate to the acquisition of it, and to assist in the pursuit, is the professed design with which it was penned. To know wisdom and instruction; to perceive the words of understanding ; to receive the instruction of wisdom, justice, judgment, and equity; to give subtlety to the simple, to the young men knowledge and discretion.
Though it is evident from many passages, that in the encomiums to which we have referred the author had principally in view divine knowledge, yet from other parts it is equally certain he by no means intended to exclude from these commendations knowledge in general ; and as we propose this afternoon to recommend to your attention the Sabbath-day school established in this place, a few reflections on the utility of knowledge at large, and of religious knowledge in particular, will not be deemed unseasonable.
I. Let me request your attention to a few remarks on the utility of knowledge in general. It must strike us, in the first place, that the extent to which we have the faculty of acquiring it forms the most obvious distinction of our species. In inferior animals it subsists in so small a degree, that we are wont to deny it to them altogether; the range of their knowledge, if it deserve the name, is so extremely limited, and their ideas so few and simple. Whatever is most exquisite in their operations is referred to an instinct, which, working within a narrow compass, though with undeviating uniformity, supplies the place and supersedes the necessity of reason. In inferior animals, the knowledge of the whole species is possessed by each individual of the species, while man is distinguished by numberless diversities in the scale of mental improvement. Now, to be destitute in a remarkable degree of an acquisition which forms the appropriate possession of human nature is degrading to that nature, and must proportionably disqualify it for reaching the end of its creation.
As the power of acquiring knowledge is to be ascribed to reason, so the attainment of it mightily strengthens and improves it, and thereby
enables it to enrich itself with further acquisitions. Knowledge in general expands the mind, exalts the faculties, refines the taste of pleasure, and opens numerous sources of intellectual enjoyment. By means of it we become less dependent for satisfaction upon the sensitive appetites, the gross pleasures of sense are more easily despised, and we are made to feel the superiority of the spiritual to the material part of our nature. Instead of being continually solicited by the influence and irritation of sensible objects, the mind can retire within herself, and expatiate in the cool and quiet walks of contemplation. The Author of nature has wisely annexed a pleasure to the exercise of our active powers, and particularly to the pursuit of truth, which, if it be in some instances less intense, is far more durable than the gratifications of sense, and is on that account incomparably more valuable. Its duration, to say nothing of its other properties, renders it more valuable. It may be repeated without satiety, and pleases afresh on every reflection upon it. These are self-created satisfactions, always within our reach, not dependent upon events, not requiring a peculiar combination of circumstances to produce or maintain them; they rise from the mind itself, and inhere, so to speak, in its very substance. Let the mind but retain its proper functions, and they spring up spontaneously, unsolicited, unborrowed, and unbought. Even the difficulties and impediments which obstruct the pursuit of truth serve, according to the economy under which we are placed, to render it more interesting. The labour of intellectual search resembles and exceeds the tumultuous pleasures of the chase, and the consciousness of overcoming a formidable obstacle, or of lighting on some happy discovery, gives all the enjoyment of a conquest, without those corroding reflections by which the latter must be impaired. Can we doubt that Archimedes, who was so absorbed in his contemplations as not to be diverted by the sacking of his native city, and was killed in the very act of meditating a mathematical theorem, did not, when he exclaimed cupówce ! supre! I have found it! I have found it! feel a transport as genuine as was ever experienced after the most brilliant victory?
But to return to the moral good which results from the acquisition of knowledge: it is chiefly this, that by multiplying the mental resources, it has a tendency to exalt the character, and, in some measure, to correct and subdue the taste for gross sensuality. It enables the possessor to beguile his leisure moments (and every man has such) in an innocent at least, if not in a useful manner. The poor man who can read, and who possesses a taste for reading, can find entertainment at home without being tempted to repair to the public. house for that purpose. His mind can find him employment when his body is at rest; he does not lie prostrate and afloat on the current of incidents, liable to be carried whithersoever the impulse of appetite may direct. There is in the mind of such a man an intellectual spring urging him to the pursuit of mental good; and if the minds of his family also are a little cultivated, conversation becomes the more interesting, and the sphere of domestic enjoyment enlarged. The calm satisfaction which books afford puts him into a disposition to relish more exqui