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The preacher could not perhaps have uttered a fentence more mortifying to human pride, or more grating to human ambition; and yet, as he could have no intention to deceive, no interest that could induce him to mislead us, we, on our parts, should seriously consider what those very cogent and powerful reasons were, which urged him to publish a truth so difagreeable, and obliged him to draw fo melancholy a conclusion.
And first, then, The most natural reflection that occurred to the royal monitor on this subject, and which we may suppose contributed in a great measure to establish this opinion, was probably the weakness and insufficiency of all human knowledge.
Those who have been at the pains to think at all (which is not indeed the talent of every man) agree in acknowledging that there is no labour fo intense, or fo fatiguing, as the labour of the mind; and that the acquisition of knowledge is a work of greater toil and trouble than the acquisition of any thing else: few things, not. withstanding, will be found on examination, so ill to repay our cares, or so poorly to recompense our folicitude: one would moreover be inclined to think that the difficulty of the conquest would enhance both the glory and the pleasure of the triumph; but the truth is, that this victory, like many others, may be bought too dear; it may be bought, we shall find, at the expence of our peace and tranquillity, at the expence of our honour and virtue, at the e price in short of all our pleasure, and all
our happiness: and who, in either of these circumitances, will compliment us on our choice, or who will envy us the purchase?
Ask the man who travels through the paths of science, if they are not obstructed with thorns and briars on every side? if he doth not meet with repeated obstacles, and is not stopped on his journey by a thousand disappointments? he will tell you, that the hopes of men deceive, that their faculties defert, and their powers betray them: that where they expected to have conquered every difficulty, and met with thorough conviction, doubts have arisen on a sudden to obscure, and mazes to perplex the understanding; the eye, as Solomon says, is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear with hearing: the minutest parts of the creation seem frequently, as it were, to mock our search, and purposely to expose the pride and insolence of those, who would reveal its secrets; and the ways of nature, like those of her divine Parent, are past finding out.
We boast, indeed, the wide and extensive field of human knowledge, and yet are perpetually ignorant even of the things which lie before us; the modest and diffident alone, will condescend to acknowledge their incapacity; they who have amassed the greatest treasures of wisdom, are always the most ready to own their poverty; and those who have toiled through the whole round of science, are best acquainted with the narrowness of the circle. Socrates, the wisest of the heathen philosophers,
is reported to have said, “ that all he knew was, that he knew nothing;" and our royal monitor hath, in the words of my text, made an acknowledgment very similar unto it. No man therefore hath a right to boast of wisdom unless he hath more than fell to the share of Socrates or Solomon; and the proudest may doubtless be taught humility, by reflecting, that he whoamongst men had most knowledge, confefied that he “ knew nothing,” and he who had moft wisdom, pronounced it to be vanity and vexation of spirit.
But if the weakness and insufficiency of all human knowledge, will not convince us of that truth which Solomon here declared; let us candidly examine whether it hath always the power, as some imagine, to make us either happier or better. And to this end let us turn our eyes towards those who are called the wife and learned of this world, to the proud poffeffors of human wisdom and knowlerige.
The palate, we may observe, which is too nice and delicate, which nauseates common food, and must be fed with dainties, is seldom pleased or satisfied; and in the same manner, he whose notions of things are too nice, whose taste is too delicate and refined, deprives him. felf of half the joys of life, and cuts himself off. from half the pleasures of society.
Mark the ignorant and illiterate part of mankind. Do they not taste the benefits of nature and enjoy the common bleilings of life with more spirit and chearfulness, ihan the grave and learned, whose brows perhaps are
knit with care, and whose avenues to joy, are shut
up by thoughtfulness and folicitude? There is, besides, a pride and superciliousness sometimes attendant on the votaries of wisdom and admirers of human learning, which renders them very uneasy to themselves, and very disagreeable to all about them.
The wise man is exalted to such an eminence, that he cannot stoop to converse or as. sociate with his fellow-creatures; he is above the follies and weaknesses, but at the same time above the comforts and conveniencies of life; removed from the vices and dangers, but removed also from all the mutual gratifications, and all the sweet endearments of society; insomuch, that in his gloomy hours of retirement, he often laments that knowledge which makes him
and that wisdom which renders him unhappy; he finds, after all his labours, that he has only been indefatigable in the pursuit of misery, and been extremely industrious to procure anxiety; and even some. times obliged, in spite of his pride and fuperiority, to wish for that ignorance which he despises, and to envy that very folly which he condemns.
Surely in such wisdom there must be grief, and he that increaseth such knowledge increaseth Sorrow.
What then are the great and boasted pleasures which flow from the admired fountains of wisdom and knowledge? Qur wisdom only enables us to discover our folly, and present knowledge but ferves to betray past ignorance;
the pride which arises from being what we arë, is checked and chastised by the remembrance of what we have been; and the pleasure of poffefsion is more than compensated by the pain of reproach.
But lastly, It is but too evident, that wisdom and knowledge do not make us happier.
Let us examine, which is of ftill greater importance, whether they make us better.
But farther, If as science and literature extended themselves, true wisdom and virtue had extended also, we muit doubtless have been much wifer, and much better than our ancestors; but, to multiply books is not always to multiply knowledge, and the improvement in arts is not certain to be accompanied with an improvement in goodness; fo far from it, that with all the advantages we possess over former times, we abound as much in vain wisdom and false philofophy, in folly, vice and irreligion, as perhaps any of our Pagan predeceilors.
Weare too apt indeed to speak with contempt of the heathen world, to deride their tenets, and to abhor their immoralities; but let us imagine one of them revisiting the earth, and placed among us in these our days; let him be an eye-witness of our corruption, let him hear our profaneness, caths, and licentiousness; would he think we had any reason to condemn the times that were paft? that we had any pretenfions to magnify our fuperior wisdom, or to boall of our fuperior virtue?