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ledge to practice, and that unless the one corresponds with the other, learning, instead of a blessing, becomes a real curse. To different men God has communicated different advantages. From Pagans less is required than from Christians, and as much less, as they know less of their Master's will; some are obliged to grope by the lightof the moon and stars, and others are blessed with the light of the sun. It is much more desirable to walk by the day-light than by moon-light. All however have light enough, if they rightly improve it, to enable them to find the way to God's favour. If there is any one who has no knowledge given him, he is not a moral agent, and nothing can be expected from him. But this cannot be supposed of any reasonable creature. There is no person so ignorant as not to have some knowledge of moral good and evil; and his acceptance and happiness depend on his acting up to this knowledge, whatever it is, and not on his acting up to any more extensive knowledge, which others, in more advantageous circumstances, have.
The most knowing ought to be the most virtuous ; but instead of this they are very often the most vicious. They employ their knowledge, not to mend their hearts, or to restrain their passions, but to gain applause, or to over-reach and deceive. They make use of it for ostentation or mischief, and not for directing them in a course of upright and useful conduct. We can never conclude what a man's character is from the parts he possesses, or the opinions he holds. Nothing is more common than for men to believe one thing and to practice the contrary. The best sentiments may have possession of their heads, whilst the vilest dispositions govern their actions. We see continually, that those who receive the best principles, and make the fairest professions, are very wicked and worthless. In short, it is one of the most undeniable truths that we may have all the faith and knowledge in the world in our understandings, without one spark of genuine goodness in our hearts.
The reason of this common separation between knowledge and practice, is the influence of particular affections and passions within us, leading us contrary to our knowledge. Our judgments direct us one way, our passions draw us another. Reason dictates piety and righteousness : brutal passions and the allurements of the world incline us to irreligion and wickedness. The latter become predominant, and thus we are seduced and corrupted; our knowledge becomes of no avail, and our lives are rendered a scene of inconsistency between our principles and our conduct. The knowledge of our duty is given us on purpose that we may do it. Practice is all, and it signifies little what we know if this is wanting. No intellectual talents or accomplishments are of any service to those who possess them, unless they render them better than other men.
It is the subserviency of wit and learning to virtue, that makes them indeed ornaments and blessings. Knowledge that is not attended with correspondent practice, defeats its own intention. It becomes maimed, vain and unprofitable. We may shine and make a great noise, but we are still destitute of all real worth. One good disposition in the soul, is infinitely preferable to the finest parts or the most brilliant wit. One virtue in the heart is more valuable than a million of truths floating in the head, or any, even the most excellent arts and sciences with which the understanding can be stocked.
We are too apt to be dazzled with the lustre of great talents, and to set an undue value on wit and
genius. But the endowments of the head deserve no admiration compared with those of the heart. Virtue is the one thing that is truly and invariably great and admirable, and to this chiefly all other qualities owe their excellence. There is indeed an excelleuce in knowledge, but it is founded principally on its connexion with practice. There is a greatness in it; but when separated from a virtuous character, it is nothing but the greatness of a de
It is important and valuable, but the importance of it consists in its furnishing us with greater means and powers of usefulness. Some degree of knowledge is absolutely necessary to the practice of virtue, and the more any one has of it, the more he is capable of the improvement and happiness connected with virtue. For this reason, it may be considered as the foundation of all the dignity of a rational creature, and consequently it must be our daty to acquire as much of it as we can. But still we should remember, that it is the use we make of it, or the superstructure we raise upon it, that must render it an advantage and a blessing. It will render us more honourable, or more deformed, just as we apply it; and the lowest degree of it, when attended with suitable practice, will turn to infinitely more account than the highest degree of it, when applied to vicious purposes. It is unspeakably better to be the silliest creature upon earth, and at the same time virtuously disposed, than to be the finest wit, or the first scholar in the world, and at the same time proud, ill-natured, or envious.
Knowledge, when separated from right practice, is not only unprofitable, but even hurtful and pernicious. It only aggravates guilt, and makes us more vile and detestable. Instead of contributing to our happiness, it becomes a nuisance and a curse, and will sink us deeper into ruin. If a man of an improved understanding is mean, or false, or covetous, he is so much the more base and hateful. Those who are above vulgar errors and prejudices, ought always to be above vulgar passions and vices ; and if they are not, they are more contemptible than mechanics or beggars.
I have a few more thoughts to send you on the same subject, but must delay for a few days. In the meantime, I am,—Your sincere well-wisher.
LETTER CVIII. The Clergyman's second Letter on the same import
ant subject. Dear Sir, I concluded my last with a promise of sending you a few more thoughts on the same important subject, as a part of that duty I owe to you and your family.
There is always an inconsistency in moral evil, when joined to superior knowledge, which increases its odiousness and demerit. The more a person knows, the more he must see of the importance of righteousness; and therefore, the more inexcusable if he deviates from it: such a person must be more depraved, and he must expose himself to a more severe punishment, in proportion as he sins more against light and conviction. Every man will find that the want of reason is much better than reason abused ; and to live and die the poorest idiot is more desirable than to possess knowledge without applying it to the practice of virtue.
How great and honourable are those, who are as much distinguished by the excellence of their lives, and sweetness of their tempers, as by the brightness of their parts, and the superiority of their understanding! What an honour and dignity knowledge,
when attended with virtuous practices, bestows on a character ! As there is nothing more monstrous than a bad heart, joined to a head adorned with knowledge, so there is nothing more excellent than the contrary. A life regulated by piety and virtue, united to an understanding improved by science ; superior talents of judgment and learning, directed by candour, benevolence, and goodness ; this includes all that is noble and respectable in a character.
Practice, united to knowledge, capacitates particularly for usefulness in the world. There is no such ornament to religion, as the man who employs his knowledge to do good, and lives agreeably to the light and dictates of a well-informed judgment; such a person has the greatest satisfaction within himself; he has, in his own mind, an inexhaustible fund of joy and pleasure ; he is free from those reproaches of conscience by which those who know what is right, without doing it, must be tormented. A person whose actions are at variance with his judgment, must be the seat of constant tumult and vexation. The juster his sentiments are, the inore extensive his knowledge, so much the more must he be the object of his own abhorrence. But a person who has an enlightened mind, and at the same time acts uprightly, and is conscious of obeying the dictates of his reason, is the more happy in proportion as he sees more of the light of truth, and is better instructed in his duty.
You see, sir, what strong motives we have to endeavour to accompany our knowledge with practice. I have already told you, that knowledge without practice is much worse than vain and insiguificant. It is a bane and a curse : it renders those who possess it more despicable and vile ; it increases guilt,