Изображения страниц

constancy. Order and method in a course of study saves much time, and makes large improvements : such a fixation of certain hours will have a happy influence to secure you

from trifling and wasting away your minutes in impertinence.

XII. Do not apply yourself to any one study at one time longer than the mind is capable of giving a close attention to it without weariness or wandering. Do not over-fatigue the spirits at any time, lest the mind be seized with a lassitude, and thereby be tempted to nauseate and grow tired of a particular subject before you have finished it.

XIII. In the beginning of your application to any new subject, be not too uneasy under present difficulties that ocçur, nor too importunate and impatient for answers and som lutions to any questions that arise. Perhaps a little more study, a little further acquaintance with the subject, a little time and experience, will solve those difficulties, untie the knot, and make your doubts vanish: especially if you are under the instruction of a tutor, he can inform


that your inquiries are perhaps too early, and that you have not yet learned those principles upon which the solution of such a difficulty depends.

XIV. Do not expect to arrive at certainty in every subject which you pursue. There are a hundred things wherein we mortals in this dark and imperfect state must be content with probability, where our best light and reasonings will reach no further. We must balance arguments as justly as we can, and where we cannot find weight enough on either side to determine the scale with sovereign force and assurance, we must content ourselves perhaps with a small preponderation. This will give us a probable opinion, and those probabilities are sufficient for the daily determination of a thousand acţions in human life, and many times even in matters of religion.

It is admirably well expressed by a late writer, · When there is great strength of argument set before us, if we will refuse to do what appears most fit for us,


little objection is removed, we shall never take one wise resolution as long as we live.

Suppose Suppose I had been honestly and long searching what religion I should choose, and yet I could not find that the arguments in defence of Christianity arose to complete certainty, but went only so far as to give me a probable evidence of the truth of it, though many difficulties still remained, yet I should think myself obliged to receive and practise that religion; for the God of nature and reason has bound us to assent and act according to the best evidence we have, even though it be not absolute and complete ; and as he is our supreme Judge, his abounding goodness and equity will approve and acquit the man whose conscience honestly and willingly seeks the best light, and obeys it as far as he can discover it.

But in matters of great importance in religion, let him join all due diligence with earnest and humble prayer for divine aid in his inquiries ; such prayer and such diligence as eternal concerns require, and such as he may plead with courage before the Judge of all.

XV. ENDEAVOUR to apply every speculative study, as far as possible, to some practical use, that both yourself and others may be the better for it. Inquiries even in natural philosophy should not be mere amusements, and much less in the affairs of religion. Researches into the springs of natural bodies and their motions should lead men to invent happy methods for the ease and convenience of human life or at least they should be improved to awaken us to admire the wondrous wisdom and contrivance of God our Creator in all the works of nature.

If we pursue mathematical speculations, they will inure us to attend closely to any subject, to seek and gain clear ideas, to distinguish truth from falsehood, to judge justly, and to argue strongly: and these studies do more directly furnish us with all the various rules of those useful arts of life, viz. measuring, building, sailing, &c.

Even our inquiries and disputations about vacuumor space, and atoms, about incommensurable quantities, and the infinite divisibility of matter, and eternal duration, which seem

to be purely speculative, will shew us some good practical lessons, will lead us to see the weakness of our nature, and should teach us humility in arguing upon divine subjects and matters of sacred revelation. This should guard us against rejecting any doctrine which is expressly and evidently revealed, though we cannot fully understand it. It is good sometimes to lose and bewilder ourselves in such studies for this very reason, and to attain this practical advantage, this improvement in true modesty of spirit.

XVI. THOUGH we should always be ready to change our sentiments of things upon just conviction of their falsehood, yet there is not the same necessity of changing our accustomed methods of reading, or study, and practice, even though we have not been led at first into the happiest method. Our thoughts may be true, though we may have hit upon an improper order of thinking. Truth does not always depend upon the most convenient method. There


be a certain form and order in which we have long accustomed ourselves to range our ideas and notions, which may be best for us now, though it was not originally best in itself. The inconveniences of changing may be much greater than the conveniences we could obtain by a new method.

As for instance ; if a man in his younger days has ranged all his sentiments in theology in the method of Ames's Medulla Theologiæ, or Bishop Usher's Body of Divinity, it may be much more natural and easy for him to continue to dispose all his further acquirements in the same order, though perhaps neither of these treatises are in themselves written in the most perfect method. So when we have long fixed our cases of shelves in a library, and ranged our books in any particular order, viz. according to their languages, or according to their subjects, or according to the alphabetical names of the authors, &c. we are perfectly well acquainted with the order in which they now stand, and we can find any particular book which we seek, or add a new book which we have purchased, with much greater case than we do in finer cases of shelves where the books were ranged in



different manner whatsoever ; any different position of the volumes would be new, and strange, and troublesome to us, and would not countervail the inconveniences of a change.

So if a man of forty years old has been taught to hold his pen awkwardly in his youth, and yet writes sufficiently well for all the purposes of his station, it is not worth while to teach him now the most accurate methods of handling that instrument; for this would create him more trouble without equal advantage, and perhaps he might never attain to write better after he has placed all his fingers perfectly right with this new accuracy.


Of fixing the Attention. A STUDENT should labour by all proper methods to acquire a steady fixation of thought. Attention is a very necessary thing in order to improve our minds. The evidence of truth does not always appear immediately, nor strike the soul at first sight. It is by long attention and inspection that we arrive at evidence, and it is for want of it we judge falsely of many things. We make haste to de. termine upon a slight and a sudden view, we confirm our guesses which arise from a glance, we pass a judgement while we have but a confused or obscure perception, and thus plunge ourselves into mistakes. This is like a man, who, walking in a mist, or being at a great distance from any visible object (suppose a tree, a man, a horse, or a church), judges much amiss of the figure, and situation, and colours of it, and sometimes takes one for the other ; whereas if he would but with-hold his judgement till he come nearer to it, or stay till clearer light comes, and then would fix his eyes longer upon it, he would secure himself from those mistakes.


Now, in order to gain a greater facility of attention, we may observe these rules.

I. Get a good liking to the study or knowledge you would pursue.


observe that there is not much difficulty in confining the mind to contemplate what we have a great desire to know; and especially, if they are matters of sense, or ideas which paint themselves upon the fancy. It is but acquiring an hearty good-will and resolution, to search out and survey the various properties and parts of such objects, and our attention will be engaged if there be any delight or diversion in the study or contemplation of them. Therefore mathematical studies have a strange influence towards fixing the attention of the mind, and giving a steadiness to a wandering disposition, because they deal much in lines, figures, and numbers, which affect and please the sense and imagination. Histories have a strong tendency the same way, for they engage the soul by a variety of sensible occurrences ; when it hath begun it knows not how to leave off; it longs to know the final event, through a natural curiosity that belongs to mankind. Voyages and travels, and accounts of strange countries and strange appear. ances, will assist in this work. This sort of study detains the mind by the perpetual occurrence and expectation of something new, and that which may gratefully strike the imagination.

II. SOMETIMES we may make use of sensible things and corporeal images for the illustration of those notions which are more abstracted and intellectual. Therefore diagrams greatly assist the mind in astronomy and philosophy; and the emblems of virtues and vices may happily teach children and pleasingly impress those useful moral ideas on young minds, which perhaps might be conveyed to them with much more difficulty by mere moral and abstracted discourses.

I confess in this practice of representing moral subjects by pictures, we should be cautious lest we so far immerse the mind in corporeal images, as to render it unfit to take in an abstracted and intellectual idea, or cause it to


« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »