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of their knowledge. There are, indeed, certain kinds of knowledge, which men are totally incapable of understanding; but these are only such kinds of knowl. edge, as require more than created faculties to understand. For, whatever kinds of knowledge any cre. ated beings are capable of understanding, men are also capable of understanding, though with more difficulty, and less rapidity. As Newton knew nothing, which any man is now incapable of knowing, in a certain time, and under certain circumstances; so there is nothing, which any intelligent creatures now know, that men are incapable of knowing, in a given time, and under proper advantages. The truth is, rationality is the same in all intelligent beings. Reason is the same thing in God, in angels, and in men. As men therefore bear the image of God, in a point of rationality; so they possess all the rational powers and faculties, which bear any analogy to the divine intelligence; or, which can be communicated to created beings. Accordingly angels are superior to men in the same sense, and perhaps nearly in the same degree, that Newton was superior to most of his own species. As Newton had no rational power or facul- . ty peculiar to himself; so angels have no rational pow. ers or faculties which are not common to all intelligent creatures. Every man therefore is capable of learning all that any man, or any intelligent creature has learned, or can learn. Hence the only natural and necessary distinction between angels and men, and between one man and another is this; that angels are capable of acquiring knowledge more easily, and more swiftly than men; and some men are capable of acquiring knowledge more easily, and more swiftly than others. And this difference between angels and men, and between man and man, to whatever
cause it may be owing, will probably continue forever; and forever keep up a distinction in their knowledge and improvements for the time being.
Now this being a settled point, we may easily, perhaps, fix the proper boundaries of human knowledge, or determine the proper subjects of human inquiry. It is a caveat given to men, but especially to inquisitive inen, not to pry into things above their measure. This careat, undoubtedly, in some cases, may be very proper and necessary; but generally, I imagine, it is not only needless but absurd. For, unless men attempt to pry into things which surpass created powers and faculties, I do not know that they transgress the boundaries of humanknowledge. There are somethings, which, in a moment, we know cannot be understood by creatures. And there may be inany others, which, by a .
a little attention, we may perceive, come under the same predicament. All therefore that divines and metaphysicians, as well as philosophers have to do, in order to know where to begin, and where to end their researches, is only to determine whether or not, the proposed subjects require more than created abil. . ities to investigate them. If they do require more than created abilities, it is vain and absurd to proceed: but if they do not, we have the same grounds to proceed, that men have ever had, to attempt new discoveries.
Thirdly, This subject gives us reason to suppose, that men, in the present state, may carry their researches into the works of nature, much further than they have ever yet carried them. The fields of science, though they have been long traversed by strong and inquisitive minds, are so spacious, that many parts remain yet undiscovered. There may be therefore room left in divinity and metaphysics, as well as in
philosophy and other sciences, to make large improvements. The large and growing capacities of men, and
, the great discoveries and improvements of the last and present century, give us grounds to hope, that human learning and knowledge will increase from generation to generation, through all the remaining periods of time. Men have the same encouragements now, that Bacon, Nerton and Franklin had, to push their researches further and further into the works of nature. It is, therefore, as groundless, as it is a discouraging sentiment, which has been often flung out, that all the subjects of divinity, all of human inquiry, are nearly exhausted, and that no great discoveries or improvements, at this time of day, are either to be expected or attempted. The present generation have superior advantages, which, with capacities no more than equal to their fathers, may enable them to surpass all who have gone before them in the paths of science. Let this thought rouse their attention, and awaken their exertions, to shew themselves men.
Fourthly, The observations, which have been made upon the noble powers and capacities of the human mind, may embolden the sons of science to aim to be originals. They are strong enough togo alone,isthey only have sufficient courage and resolution. They have the same capacities, and the same original sources of knowledge, that the ancients enjoyed. All men are as capable of thinking, of reasoning, and of judging for themselves in matters of learning, as in the common affairs and concerns of life. And would men of letters enjoy the pleasures of knowledge, and render themselves the most serviceable to the world,let them determine to think and judge for themselves. Their progress may perhaps, in this way, not be so rapid; yet it will be much more entertaining and useful. When I say their progress may not be so rapid, I mean with respect to those only, who possess moderate abilities; for as to those of superior powers, they will make much swifter progress by going alone out of the common, beaten track. The way to outstrip those who
, have gone before us, is not to tread in their steps, but to take a nearer course. What philosopher can expect to overtake Newton, by going over all the ground, which he travelled? What divine can expect to come up with Mede, Baxter, or Edwards, while he pursues their path? Or what poet can hope to transcend Homer and Milton, so long as he sets up these men as the standards of perfection? If the moderns would only employ nature's powers and converse freely and familiarly with nature's objects, they might rise above the ancients, and bear away the palm from all who have
gone before them in the walks of science. Fifthly, What has been said concerning the nature and dignity of man, shows us, that we are under indispensable obligations to cultivate and improve our minds in all the branches of human knowledge. All our natural powers are so many talents, which, in their owo nature, lay us under moral obligations to improve them to the best advantage. Being men, we are obliged to act like men, and not like the horse or the mule which have no understanding. Besides, knowledge, next to religion, is the brightest ornament of human nature. Knowledge strengthens, enlarges, and polishes the human soul, and sets its beauty and dignity in the fairest light. Learning hath made astonishing distinctions among the different nations of the carth. Those nations, who have lived under the warm and enlightening beams of science, have appeared like a superior order of beings, in comparison with those, who have dragged out their lives under the cold and dark shades of ignorance. The Chaldeans and Qcce.
Egyptians, as well as the Greeks and Romans while they cultivated the arts and sciences, far surpassed, in dignity and glory, all their ignorant and barbarous neighbors. Europe since the resurrection of letters in the sixteenth century, appears to be peopled with a superior species. And the present inhabitants of North America owe all their superiority to the Aboriginals, in point of dignity, to the cultivation of their minds in the civil and polite arts. Learning has also preserved the names, characters, and mighty deeds of all ancient nations from total oblivion. A few learned men in each nation, have done more to spread their national fame, than all their kings and heroes. The boasted glory of Britain is more to be ascribed to her Newtons, her Lockes, and her Addisons, than to all her kings, and fleets, and conquerors.
But the cultivation and improvement of the mind is more necessary for use, than for ornament. We were made for usefulness and not for amusement. We were made to be the servants of God, and of each other. We were made to live an active, diligent, and useful life. As men therefore, we cannot reaclı the end of our being, without cultivating all our mental powers in order to furnish ourselves for the most extensive service in our day and generation. Knowledge
learning are useful in every station; and in the higher and more important departments of life, they are absolutely and indispensably necessary.
Permit me now, therefore, my hearers, to suggest several things, which may serve to excite you to improve your minds in every branch of useful knowledge, which, either your callings, or your circumstances require.
I am happy to congratulate you, my countrymen, that we live in an age which is favorable to mental