« PreviousContinue »
does succeed; the youth does not disappoint his parents' hopes. He brings from bis instructors the highest character for talent and application to his studies—he outstrips all his competitors -his attainments are the wonder and envy of his acquaintance- and he is admired as a prodigy of genius and learning. Is he pious and virtuous ? Nay, what is that to the purpose ?- Principles form no part of a finished education; they may be acquired by hazard in after life, if it be necessary. The proposed end is gained. He turns out a learned man.
He is the delight of society; his wit is brilliant-his observations profound. He can discourse of books and languages—and history, and art and nature—and the productions of other countries—and the manners of foreign nations. In short, his mind is a store-house of varied knowledge; and his conversation so entertaining and instructive, that all are willingly silent when he speaks. And yet with all his fame, and all the applause that flattery can bestow, what a pitiable and contemptible being is this very man, if this is the sum of his attainments! Even yet he lacketh one species of knowledge, and that the most useful, and “whereof the praise endureth for ever :
even yet he has omitted one branch of study, and that the very one, which alone can give a value and importance to all his other acquirements ! I will not stay at present to show you what he has lost by this omission, in regard to the general happiness of his life; I will not set before
his lamentable deficiencies in true peace and satisfaction of mind -in elevation of sentiment–in the pleasure of hope-in courage against affliction—in all those principles and feelings which most exalt and purify and comfort the soul of man.
I might prove to you, that even in these respects, the simple rustic, who "walks humbly with his God,” and keeps eternity always in his view, has studied to much better purpose, if practical happiness be the end of knowledge. But I will pass over all this, and invite you rather to accompany me to his death bed, to take the value of his learning under those circumstances which are most favourable to the discovery of the truth; for “wise men also die and perish together, as well as the ignorant and foolish." It was the reflection upon death that taught Solomon the vanity of mere human knowledge._“I myself perceived also that one event happeneth to them all (i. e. both wise and foolish): then said I in my heart, as it happeneth to the fool, so it happeneth even to me, and why was I then more wise? Then I said in my heart, that this also is vanity.” Surely, nothing can be more vain, if religious wisdom, the
but the grave,
beginning of knowledge, be wanting. For attend
Death approaches. He must face his enemy-he must struggle with him—he must be subdued by him. Oh, where shall he turn for help and comfort? Will all his learning, all his wit now avail to soothe his anguish? Will the stores of knowledge that he has treasured up, will the recollection of the admiration in which he was held, afford relief? Has he acquired nothing with all his toil and study, which is able to cheer with one ray of consolation that dark hour? Nay, it was no part of his education to prepare for death. Extensive as his learning was, it did not embrace the subjects which now crowd in confusion on his mind ;-God, and sin, and judgment, and eternity. Unusual and dreadful ideas haunt and
torment him, like spectres and demons from the regions to which he is hastening. Life at length gives up the conflict, and his spirit goes to appear in the presence of his Maker, whose love he had never sought, and whose will he had never studied. His mortal remains are laid in the earth, and the stone which covers them perhaps records how wise he was ; but even monumental flattery dares not to express a hope that he was “wise unto salvation.” I
the brutes their ignorance and annihilation, more than that man his knowledge and immortality.
Now contemplate the opposite case to which I alluded; that of the simple Christian, illiterate and destitute of all human wisdom, but who has learnt with Solomon, that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge." True, he passes on in silence through the world, unheard of and undistinguished among the crowd ; none flock to him for instruction, none admire and applaud his sagacity and erudition ; but God above, who “seeth in secret,” and “ dwelleth with the humble,” discerns his pious servant, and blesses him with favours more valuable than man can bestow. True, he is rude and ignorant, but a light shines in his soul as superior to any that mere science can impart, as the mid-day sun is to a glimmering taper. True, he can enjoy none of the triumphs and rewards of genius, but he is provided against the reverses and afflictions of life, and he anticipates the glory and happiness of heaven. True, he must die as well as the wise, but on his death bed he is not harassed by the bitter reflection, that he has only acquired that knowledge, which “shall vanish away;" he is comforted with the thought that he has attained a portion of that better wisdom, which though in this state of ignorance it be very imperfect, and enable him but to "see as through a glass darkly,” yet has served to guide him to those regions, where he will shortly be blessed with a full, and clear, and experimental apprehension of the mercy of God, and of the happiness provided for them that have loved him.
My brethren, I have but as it were sketched the faint outlines of that picture in which I wished to represent to you the excellence of religious knowledge, and the insignificance of all earthly attainments when separated from it. But perhaps what I have said, is sufficient to convince you of the solid truth of that wise maxim contained in
my text. “Let us then,” (I use the words of Solomon, the last in the Book of Ecclesiastes) “let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter, fear God, and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.” “For God shall bring every