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With little strength I undertake a great work, or rather, with the least abilities, I venture upon a task which is of all others the greatest and most important. Among the various undertakings of men, can an instance be given of one more sublime than an intention to form the human mind anew, after the Divine image ? Yet it will, I doubt not, be universally acknowledged, that this is the true end and design, not only of ministers in their several congregations, but also of professors of divinity in schools. And though, in most respects, the ministerial office is evidently superior to that of professors of theology in colleges, in one respect the other seems to have the preference, as it is, at least for the most part, the business of the former to instruct the common sort of men, the ignorant and illiterate; while it is the work of the latter to season with heavenly doctrine the minds of select societies of youth, who have had a learned education, and are devoted to a studious life; many of whom, it is to be hoped, will, by the Divine blessing, become preachers of the same salutary doctrine themselves. And surely this ought to be a powerful motive with all those who, by the Divine dispensation, are employed in such a work, to exert themselves with the greater life and spirit in the discharge of their duty; especially when they consider that those Christian instructions and seeds of true piety, which they instil into the tender minds of their pupils, will by them be spread far and wide, and in due time, conveyed, as it were, by so many canals and aqueducts, to many parts of the Lord's
vineyard. Plutarch employs an argument of this kind, to prevail with the philosophers to exert themselves in the instruction of princes and great men, rather than with a haughty sullenness to avoid their company; “For thus, (says he,) you will find a short way to be useful to many." And, to be sure, he that conveys the principles of virtue and wisdom into the minds of the lower classes of men, or the illiterate, whatever progress his disciples may make, employs his time and talents only for the advantage of his pupils; but he that forms the minds of magistrates and great men, or such as are intended for high and exalted stations, by improving one single person, becomes a benefactor to large and numerous societies. Every physician of generous principles, as Plutarch expresses it, [Diaoxados,] would have an uncommon ambition to cure an eye intended to watch over many persons, and to convey the sense of seeing to numbers; and a musical instrument-maker would, with uncommon pleasure, exert his skill in perfecting a harp, if he knew that it was to be employed by the hands of Amphion, and, by the force of its music, to draw stones together for building the walls of Thebes. A learned and ingenious author, alluding to this fable, and applying it to our present purpose, calls professors of theology in schools, makers of harps for building the walls of a far more famed and beautiful city, meaning the Heavenly Jerusalem, in such manner, that the stones of this building being truly and, without a fable, living, and charmed by the pleasant harmony of the Gospel, come of their own accord to take their places in the wall.
I am not so little acquainted with myself, as to entertain the least hope of success in so great a work by my own strength and abilities; but, while I humbly depend upon the Divine goodness and favour, I have no reason to despair ; for in the hand of Omnipotence, all instruments are alike. Nor can it be questioned that He, who made all things out of nothing, can produce any change He pleases in His creatures that are already made; He who gives Zwnv, xai zvonv, xai warta, life, and breath, and all things, can easily strengthen the weak, and
give riches in abundance to the poor and needy. Our emptiness only serves to lay us open to, and attract the fulness of Him “ who fills all things, and is over all; - who gives wisdom to the mind, and prevents its irregular sallies.”
Under His auspices, therefore, young gentlemen, we are to aspire to true and saving wisdom, and to try to raise ourselves above this sublunary world. For it is not my intention to perplex you with curious questions, and lead you through the thorny paths of disputation ; but, if I had any share of that excellent art, it would be my delight to direct your way, through the easy and pleasant paths of righteousness, to a life of endless felicity, and be myself your companion in that blessed pursuit. I would take pleasure to kindle in your souls the most ardent desires, and fervent love of heavenly things; and to use the expression of a great divine, add “ wings to your souls, to snatch them away from this world, and restore them to God.” For, if I may be allowed to speak with freedom, most part of the notions that are treated of in theological schools, that are taught with great pomp and ostentation, and disputed with vast bustle and noise, may possibly have the sharpness of thorns; but they have also their barrenness: they may prick and tear, but they can afford no solid nourishment to the minds of men. No man ever gathered grapes off thorns, nor figs off thistles. “ To what purpose," saith A Kempis, “ dost thou reason profoundly concerning the Trinity, if thou art without humility, and thereby displeasest that Trinity*?” And St. Augustine, upon the words of Isaiah, I am the Lord that teacheth thee to profit, observes with great propriety, that the Prophet here mentions utility in opposition to subtilty t. Such are the principles I would wish to communicate to you ; and it is my earnest desire and fervent prayer, that while I, according to my measure of strength, propose them to your understanding, He who sits in Heaven, yet condescends to instruct the hearts of men on this earth, may effectually impress them upon your minds.
careas humilitate, et sic
* Quorsum alta de Trinitate disputare, Trinitate displiceas ?
$ Utilia non subtilia.
But that you may be capable of this supernatural light and heavenly instruction, it is, first of all, absolutely necessary, that your minds be called off from foreign objects, and turned in upon themselves; for, as long as your thoughts are dispersed and scattered in pursuit of vanity and insignificant trifles, he that would lay before them the principles and precepts of this spiritual wisdom, would commit them, like the sibyl's prophecies, that were written on loose leaves of trees, to the mercy of the inconstant winds, and thereby render them entirely useless. It is certainly a matter of great difficulty, and requires uncommon art, to fix the thoughts of men, espècially young men and boys, and turn them in upon themselves. We read in the parable of the Gospel concerning the prodigal son, that, first of all, he came to himself, and then returned to his father. It is certainly a very considerable step towards conversion to God, to have the mind fixed upon itself, and disposed to think seriously of its own immediate concerns; which the pious St. Bernard excellently expresses in this prayer, “ May 1,” says he,“ return from external objects to my own inward concerns, and from inferior objects rise to those of a superior nature *.” I should look upon it as no small happiness, if, out of this whole society, I could but gain one, but wish earnestly I could prevail with many, and still more ardently that I could send you all away, fully determined to entertain more serious and secret thoughts than ever you had before, with regard to your immortal state and eternal con
But how vain are the thoughts of men! What a darkness overclouds their mindst! It is the great complaint of God concerning His people, that they have not a heart to understand. It is at once the great disgrace and misery of mankind, that they live without forethought. That brutish thoughtlessness, pardon the expression, or, to speak more intelligibly, want of consideration, is the death and ruin of souls. And the ancients observe, with great truth and justice, “ that a thoughtful mind is the spring and source of every good
* Ab exterioribus ad interiora redeam, et ab inferioribus ad superiora ascendam.
tego O vanas hominum mentes! O pectora cæca !
It is the advice of the Psalmist, that we should converse much with ourselves: an advice, indeed, which is regarded by few; for the greatest part of mankind are no where greater strangers than at home. But it is my earnest request to you, that you would be intimately acquainted with yourselves, and as becomes persons devoted to a studious life, be much at home, much in your own company, and very often engaged in serious conversation with yourselves. Think gravely, To what purpose do I live? Whither am I going? Ask, thyself, hast thou any fixed and determined purpose, any end that thou pursuest with steadfastness t. The principles I have embraced under the name of the Christian Religion, the things I have so often heard about a future state and life, and death eternal, are they true or false? If they are true, as we all absolutely profess to believe they are, then, to be sure, the greatest and most important matters of this world are vain, and even less than vanity itself: all our knowledge is but ignorance, our riches poverty, our pleasure bitterness, and our honours vile and dishonourable. How little do those men know, who are ambitious of glory, what it really is, and how to be attained. Nay, they eagerly catch at the empty shadow of it, while they avoid and turn their backs upon that glory which is real, substantial, and everlasting. The happiness of good men in the life to come, is not only infinitely above all our expressions, but even beyond our most enlarged thoughts. By comparing, however, great things with small, we attain some faint notion of these exalted and invisible blessings, from the earthly and visible enjoyments of this world. In this respect, even the Holy Scriptures descend to the weakness of our capacities, and as the Hebrews express it,
Intellectus cogitabundus principium omnis boni. + Est aliquid quo tendis, et in quid dirigis arcum ?