« ElőzőTovább »
may be allowed the expression) the imagination. Truth and certainty are with such minds too tame. Finding little satisfaction in the world of reality, they betake themselves to the world of fiction; and amidst her fairy groves, her mountain torrents, her golden palaces, her knights and ladies fair, her princes, and her all-conquering heroes, they find something so far superior to the daily routine of common life, that they appear never happy unless while perusing some exciting narrative, or wrapt in some dreamy and pleasing reverie; but he who throws the reins on his imagination, commits his mental character to a dangerous faculty,mà faculty that may plunge him eventually into a state of moral degradation, equal to that of the infatuated dram-drinker, or eater of opium. Let us not be misunderstood. We do not condemn all works of fiction ;-the parable, the allegory, the dramatic composition, and even the fictitious tale, when they read to us moral lessons, and teach us how to live and how to die, tend, as the parabolic portions of Holy Writ do, to our highest mental improvement. We condemn not the writings of the poets ;-a Milton, a Young, a Cowper, a Montgomery, abound in beautiful descriptions of the works of God, in delightful imagery, and invaluable sentiments. It is the abuse of the imagination we condemn; the indiscriminate perusal of works of fiction that we deem highly detrimental both to the moral and intellectual character.
There are some few individuals in whom the judgment appears superior to every other mental faculty. They have little memory, no imagination, and yet judgment, so far as it has materials to work upon, never fails them. All they want is memory and imagination, in the same degree of excellence, to qualify their minds for the highest intellectual exertion. A harmony and accordance of the mental powers ought earnestly to be sought for; for the mind should not resemble an unfinished piece of sculpture, in which one or two features are wrought into beauty and proportion, while the rest remains in block. It should resemble the living and breathing human form, in which every limb and every feature has its due place and configuration, though the whole, as in infancy, in childhood, and in youth, may not have reached its full maturity.
The improved and cultivated mind, then, is quick to perceive, prompt to form clear and accurate conceptions, strong in its retentive power, and qualified to decide with accuracy. It has an imagination rich in illustrative imagery, and a taste dead to the polluting, the low, and the inaccurate, but tremblingly alive to the great, the beautiful, and the true. Its moral feelings shrink from evil, and are attuned to good. Vice or sin is hateful to it: virtue or holiness its delight.
The attention of the reader is therefore requested to some observations, a practical regard to which may tend to secure, at least, some degree of mental improvement. Our remarks may be classed under the following heads :-Observation, Reading, Conversation, Meditation. To him who desires mental improvement, our advice is,
1. Observe much. It is, alas ! too true, that many things are not worth observing, while to observe others, will only serve to injure the mind. This may be affirmed of many of the works and deeds of men, but not of the ways and works of God. Selection from the former is therefore desirable, while over the latter, the eye may range without fear, and the mind expatiate with advantage.
He who reads or converses where he might obtain information by personal observation, takes at second hand, that which he might obtain at the first, and receives ideas, tinged with the colour of other minds, instead of those tinted with the beauty which nature and unsophisticated truth invariably give.
Dr. Watts, in his admirable work on the Improvement of the Mind, has classed under the head of Observation our ideas of sensation and reflection, to which we may add, all that we derive from experiment. These three sources furnish an abundance of materials to store the memory, and employ the imagination and judgment. The heavens above, and the earth beneath; the sun, the moon, the stars, and planets of the one, together with the vapours of the lower sky; the earth, with all that appears on its surface, and gives grace and beauty to its appearance; the birds, the beasts, the fishes of the sea, and the reptile that creeps in the dust; the character and intentions of our fellow men, so far as their character and intentions are discoverable by us; the movements of our own minds, our purposes, intentions, and motives. The vices and follies of others may teach us to avoid them; from their virtues and various excellencies we may be furnished with examples after which to copy. Our own minds should be observed, and our hearts severely scanned, that we may learn something of ourselves, as well as of the objects which surround us. For how many are there who know much of the world without, but nothing of the world within; and while furnished with almost all other kinds of knowledge, have neglected that which, to themselves, personally, is of all the most important,-the knowledge of their own character. They have admired and cultivated the distant and the foreign, while their own homestead is neglected.
2. If you would improve your mind, give yourself to reading.
To him who would derive benefit from reading, nothing is more important than a right estimate of books; and no friend is more valuable than he who is both competent and willing to recommend to us the best. There is one book, which, for the intellectual and moral improvement of the mind, far exceeds all others. It is the most ancient, the most curious, the most poetie, the most faithful, and the most pure and influential of all books. “It has," as Locke said, “God for its author, salvation for its end, and truth, without any mixture of error, for its subject matter." He, therefore, who is entrusted with the education of the young, and does not most strenuously commend the Bible to their regards, fails most egregiously in the duty he owes to them. And he who seeks to improve his own mind, but yet neglects this volume, neglects the very means best adapted to accomplish the end he has in view. One who was intimately acquainted with that portion of the Bible with which he was favoured, has said, “The entrance of thy word giveth light, it giveth understanding to the simple." Its faintest dawn dispels the darkness of the mind; but those who have the opportunity of dwelling, as we have, in its meridian splendour, may occupy a region of light from which all the clouds of ignorance, of error, and of sin, are “blown far remote.”
The books we read, if carefully selected, ought not to be confined to a few topics. If time can be found, they ought to embrace many. Poor books, or books that are poorly written, are worse than useless. They consume the time, waste the spirits, and add nothing either to the stores or to the vigour of the mind. They rather impair its powers : but a book rich in thought, and well written, cannot be read with attention without advantage. Conversation with a person whose mind is superior, and information extensive, is productive of a similar effect. The cause is the same. In each case there is intercourse. In the one with the living and present, in the other with the absent, and, perhaps, the dead. Conversation or intellectual intercourse is assimilative. We take the character of those with whom we hold intercourse. How important then that we should read only the best books! For we shall, most assuredly, resemble the authors we admire and study.
He who reads and masters one good book on any art or science, or any philosophical, moral, or religious topic, will find little that is new in his subsequent reading on that topic. A man of thought, meditation, and laborious enquiry, who composes a treatise or a volume on a subject with which he has been long conversant, will write little that ought to have been omitted, and leave unwritten very little that ought to have been inserted. What he writes, also, will be luminously arranged, and clearly and intelligibly expressed. When a Paley writes on Natural Theology, or a Wardlaw on Morals, or a Doddridge or a Watts on the Religion of the Sonl, or a Milton, descending from his poetic flight, touches for a moment on the wrongs and sufferings of a conscientious but oppressed people, little can be added to the richness of their sentiment, nor any thing devised to increase the beauty of their expression; so also when Brown writes on Intellectual Science, or Locke on Toleration, or Dwight or Turretine on Theology, they exhaust the respective subjects; and he who expects to discover much that is new on these points in subsequent writers, will be disappointed. Master then one good book on a valuable topic, and you will find but little more to learn.
3. He who would improve his mind must not shun conversation with his fellow men.
The choice of a companion or companions is as important as the wise selection of books. The effect of our intercourse with our friends or acquaintance is incalculably great. “He that walks with a wise man shall be wise.” “ Associate not with an angry man; and with a furious man thou shalt not go, lest thou learn his ways.” These precepts are from the wisest of the inspired writers of the Old Testament; and the saying of a heathen, quoted by the great apostle of the New Testament, is equally true to nature and to fact. “Evil communications corrupt good manners.” A valuable companion is distinguished by three qualifications,-knowledge, temper, and expression. No one can derive mental improvement from an ignoramus,- from a reader of trifling books, a frequenter of trifling
Lectures on Divine Sovereignty, Election, the Atonement, Justifi
cation, and Regeneration. By George Payne, LL.D., Exeter. London: Hamilton, Adams and Co. 1836. pp. 403.
The introduction to the notice of our readers, of this most valuable, accurate, and well-considered theological treatise, affords us a favourable opportunity, of which we gladly avail ourselves, to offer a few remarks on the present state and prospects of the literature and theology of our own denomination. The vital importance of these subjects must be felt as soon as they are mentioned. That we should prosper as a body of Christians among ourselves, or that we should bear our appropriate part in the great commonwealth of the church catholic, to sustain the sacred cause of truth and godliness, if our literature were ebbing to a low and shallow state, and our theology becoming indefinite, loose, and erroneous, is manifestly impossible. That every christian minister should be a profound scholar and theologian is not necessary or possible; but that denomination of Christians which does not possess, which does not produce and cherish a due number and succession of eminent divines rich in consecrated learning, can never be a permanently flourishing, influential, powerful body. It is not enough that a denomination of Christians should be rich in the labours of its learned men of former generations. The ever changeful course of human opinions and affairs will require for every age the guidance of superior minds, and defences and expositions of truth adapted to the pecular character, errors, and wants of the time. Nor will it avail a religious body that other christian communities are fruitful in contemporaneous learning and theology, whose productions it may appreciate, leaving to others the labour and the honour of instructing the age, and of assailing error in each new form and combination it may assume. For a denomination of Christians has needlessly, and in vain, separated from their brethren of other communions, if the believers composing it have not some distinctive peculiarities of opinion on subjects deemed by them of grave importance, which will require that in order to their full satisfaction, even the more general truths of our holy religion should be presented to them under a modification, attainable only by the statements of able divines, imbued with the denominational sentiments and feelings. All denominations of Christians should make all the use possible of the learning and best productions of others; but no one can safely remain destitute or deficient of a perennial literature of its own, pouring out its fresh and constant streams for the supply of the never ceasing wants of minds, which, if they be not reading and inquisitive, are in haste to degeneracy and ignorance.
vol. 1. x.s.
It is, therefore, with great delight we avow our belief that truth will warrant the language of congratulation on the present state of sacred learning in our body. When we enumerate various works recently published by several of our ministers distinguished for their scholarship, the “ Scripture Testimony" of Dr. Smith; the four volumes of the Congregational Lecture; and the elaborate work now under consideration, with several others of distinguished merit, we may observe, with satisfaction, how many able men of our body are devoting their energies to profound investigations, and exploring the wide regions of sacred truth, at a time when so many circumstances unfavourable and discouraging to the higher pursuits and productions of learning prevail. In these busy days men of talent are summoned to early and constant action. In these days of general but superficial knowledge, varied and extensive information is more appreciated than deep and accurate learning. The leisure to acquire thorough scholarship can with difficulty be secured ; and that high, we had almost said sacred, acquisition, when made, advances not its possessor equally with many other attainments more easily acquired, and of far less value. Still the love of knowledge, and of truth, is in minds of a certain order not to be quenched by difficulties. The dignity of the pursuit; the necessity of following truth into every deep recess, of tracking error through every devious path; the duty of resting satisfied with no partial, shallow investigations, have ever been felt by eminent votaries of knowledge to constitute an obligation, from which there is to them no release, “to scorn delights and spend laborious days," at the shrine of sacred truth. Such minds we still number among us. But no unquenchable ardour in acquiring knowledge and investigating truth, or in the production of able and profound works on theology, on the part of men devoted to learning, can render needless a duty we would with the utmost earnestness enforce on all the ministers and intelligent Christians of our body- that of enconraging and fostering, by every possible effort, sacred learning in our denomination. We are deeply concerned to see the higher productions of learning appreciated in our communion, and to know that there is a demand for them when published, that shall at once encourage and recompense their authors; and at the same time prove that those who are incompetent to produce such works, yet delight to explore their profound and elaborate investigations. We are persuaded that nothing will more avail to promote the real prosperity and efficiency of the Congregational body, than an increased patronage and support of its literature, both periodical and permanent. Let the valuable works that are produced among us be purchased, circulated, read. Our wealthy brethren can scarcely employ a portion of their substance to better purpose, for the advancement of truth and piety, than by devoting it to encourage a consecrated literature. The excellent fruit produced by the laudable establishment of the Congregational Lecture, may be appealed to with equal confidence and pleasure, in the four most valuable series already published by Dr. Wardlaw and Professor Vaughan, Mr. Gilbert, and Dr. Henderson. Surely our body will not allow that effort to languish? Our brethren should feel it a duty they