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It is the sentiment of Pope, in his celebrated ethical poem, that “the proper study of mankind is man."
We scarcely alter this sentiment by saying, that the proper study of every individual man is himself; and although no advantage were to be derived from this department of research, we might expect to see him drawn to it by an irrepressible curiosity. Whatever be the origin of our being, or the end for which it was given us, it must be obvious to every one, that the phenomena which it exhibits are pre-eminently interesting. The mechanism of our bodies, so complicated in its parts, and yet so exact in its adaptations, is confessedly a specimen of exquisite skill; our capacities of thought and rational activity, so restless and versatile,' and powerfully discursive, exalt us above the loftiest of nature's material productions, and loudly proclaim us the first of its wonders; while the singular conjunction of mind with matter, of which our being consists, invests us with a mysterious grandeur, which is fitted to arrest the dullest intellect, and awaken the most intense inquiry. And when we add to these things, the consideration, that this is the solitary instance among the creatures of earth, in which the subject and the student are one and the same; that man is the only being, here below, who is capable of examining and knowing himself; that the singular assemblage of constituent properties, to which we have adverted, so opposite in its elements, but so admirably assorted and harmonized, is not separate from him, but his very self, the seat of his living consciousness, and strictly identical with all that he is, it seems necessary to infer, that this branch of knowledge must take precedence of every other, or, at the very least, that other knowledge will be valued only in as far as it tends to reveal its secrets, or unfold its physical and social relations.
Thus much might be expected from mere curiosity; but if we pass from these things to yet graver matters, if we consider that this wonderful existence, which we so fondly call ourselves, is, in all its parts, the workmanship of God; that its elevation, on the scale of being, has raised it up to responsibilities, which renders it strictly accountable to him for all its voluntary operations; that it is destined to continue for ever amidst felicities the most refined, or sufferings the most painful, according to the moral condition in which it enters the future state that the present life is the crisis of its destiny, where the felicities of the future are to be lost or won, and that to meet this crisis, in such a way as to secure these felicities, the knowledge of ourselves and our moral relations, is absolutely indispensable—if we consider these things, and take so much as a general survey of their character and importance, they raise the expectation inconceivably higher, and seem as if they would constrain us to conclude, if man be reasonable at all, that, whatever other topics of research may occasionally attract him, yet the history of his own being, and circumstances, and prospects, is sure, in every instance, to be thoroughly explored.
Such is the verdict of theory, as founded in reason and enlightened self-love; but fact, alas! deplorably belies it. The phenomena of our nature are sedulously studied, as topics of rational amusement, or as ministering to the advancement of mere science, whether physical or ethical, or from the sordid desire of turning the many, to the supposed advantage of the few, whose deeper secular sagacity, or daring in sensual wickedness, may have given them the ascendency. In this latter respect, especially, our nature is eagerly studied, and extensively known. Its powers and competencies, in body or in mind, are industriously scanned, and correctly estimated; its likings and aversions are carefully ascertained, and even its foibles, and weak points, are marked and appreciated, all for the purpose of making it subservient to an ever-working and multiform selfishness. Such is the kind of acquaintance with man, which is actively cultivated, and highly extolled, by the votaries of worldly wisdom: and were this the study of which we speak, our task would be easily accomplished, for all that is talent or enterprise in the busy world around us, is already in vigorous pursuit of it. So far from leading man, however, to a just and rational acquaintance with himself, it does the very reverse, it averts his attention from the
proper subject; for the habit of looking outward makes him
forget to look inward : it leaves him little leisure, and less inclination, for considering the origin and end of his being; it obliterates the contrast between what he ought to be, and what he is, and thereby vitiates his moral feeling; it inures him to that which is shadowy and perishing, till the spiritual and vital are utterly forgotten.
But the knowledge of which we speak, has the man's self for its object—his whole constitution, corporeal and mental; the moral complexion, and continued workings of the thinking principle within him; the particular kinds of good or evil to which he feels himself prompted, by inward moral bias, or influence from without: the responsibilities by which he is bound, as a reasonable being, under law to the Author of all being; the favourable circumstances in which he is placed, by the tender mercy of the God that made him, and the awfully solemn inquiry whether he is, or is not, so improving these circumstances, as to warrant the hope of a happy immortality. These are a few of the leading topics, , which must of necessity be examined, before a man can have any pretensions to the first and highest of all acquirements—the knowledge of himself; for our standing here is not isolated, but morally and spiritually related, and it is impossible to explore the mystery of our being, or to meet its duties and advantages, except in as far as its moral relations are ascertained and appreciated. Situated as we are, it is indispensable, that, in order to know ourselves, we should know the God that made us; and the moral constitution which he has given us; and the law under which he has placed us; and the spiritual calamity which afflicts us; and the remedy which God has provided for us; and the duties which we owe to that living community, in the midst of which he has placed us. All these things enter vitally into the exercise of self-inquiry; and ignorance of any one of these, or error about it, is sure to involve a corresponding error in the use of Christian privilege, or the practice of Christian duty.
It is this important consideration that we wish the reader to carry along with him to the perusal of the volume before us. We wish him, in short, to see it as a truth, and to adopt it as a settled maxim, that, to be he knows not what, as a moral and religious being, or to think himself to be what he is not, on the one extreme or on the other, is to carry about with him a state of mind, which is sure to mislead his religious practice. If his eye be misguided, when turned inward on his moral condition as a sinner, it caunot but commit a corresponding error, when turned outward on that dispensation of righteousness and love, which God has revealed for his life and salvation; for the last is adapted to the first, with a most amazing exactress, as the antidote to the poison, or the remedy to the disease; and if a man's views of his moral condition be deficient, or exaggerated, or confused and inconsistent, the moral harmony is destroyed, and he is constrained to regard the Christian remedy as superfluous or inadequate, or, in one respect or other, alien or inappropriate. But if this be the effect of self-ignorance on the formation of religious opinions, it must produce the same effects on individual practice, for man feels as he thinks, and acts as he feels, when not restrained by