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is but another species of pride, to pretend that we know nothing ; Christian humility is best expressed in referring, what we know, to the good of others. Without this reference, all our claims of superior wisdom are vain and delusive: for it is with knowledge, as with faith, unless it work by charity, it is nothing.
To return to the text, then, and to conclude.
Let the ignominy of this Self-delusion deter us, if nothing else can, from the unseemly arrogance, it so well exposes and condemns, And let us learn to revere the wisdom of the great Apostle, who, by couching so momentous an admonition in so plain terms, has taught us, That, as conceit and vain-glory terminate in shame and disappointment; so the modesty of unpretending knowledge may be entitled to our highest esteem.
PREACHED MAY 16, 1773.
2 COR. X. 12.
We dare not make ourselves of the number,
or compare ourselves, with some that commend themselves : But they, measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise.
I SHALL not inquire, who the persons were, to whom these words are applied. It is enough, for the use I intend to make of them, to observe, that they contain a censure of some persons, “ who, conscious of certain advan
tages, and too much taken up in the contemplation of them, came to think better of
" themselves, and, consequently, worse of
others, than they had reason to do; demon“strating, by this, their partiality (as the
Apostle gently remonstrates), that they were 06 not wise.".
But this censure admits a more extensive application. Measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, whole nations, and even ages, as well as individuals, are, sometimes, misled in the estimate they make of their own worth ; and never more easily, or remarkably, than when the object of their partial fondness is their proficiency in knowledge, and, above all, in religious knowledge: for nothing flatters the pride of human nature so much, as an idea of superiority in the exercise of its best faculties, on the noblest subjects.
It would be easy to illustrate this observation by many examples, that have occurred in the history of mankind. But one, only, will sufficiently employ your thoughts at this time; and that one (to make it the more interesting and useful) shall be taken from OURSELVES.
The improvements, that have been made, two or three centuries past, in almost every
art and science, seem to authorize the present age to think with some respect, of itself. It accordingly exults in the idea of its own wisdom: and this country, in particular, which has contributed its full share to those improvements, may well be thought as forward, as any other, to pay itself this tribute of selfesteem. It would not be strange, if it appeared, on inquiry, That some presumption had, in either case, been indulged ; and had even operated, according to the nature of presumption, to the prejudice of that claim, which, with so much confidence, has been set up. But I have now in view, only, one effect of this presump tion ; I mean, the complacency which many take in supposing, Thát the present age excels equally in sacred and secular learning; and, with regard to ourselves, That our theological knowledge as much surpasses that of our forefathers at the Reformation, as their knowledge did, the thick and gross ignorance of the
It concerns us, for more reasons than one, not to mistake in this matter. The direct
way to decide upon it, would, no doubt, be, To compare the best modern writers, with the ablest of those among the Reformers, on the subject of religion. But, till ye have the leisure or curiosity to make this comparison for yourselves, ye will pay some regard, it may be, to the following considerations ; which, at least, I think, make it questionable, whether our claims, in particular (for the inquiry shall, for the present, be confined to them), whether, I say, our pretensions to religious knowledge have not been carried too far. And,
1. One is tempted to ask, whether it be credible, that we of this age should have much advantage over our Reformers, in respect of religious knowledge, when both had an opportunity of deriving it from the same source ? You will apprehend the meaning of this question, if you reflect, that our Reformers had not their religious system to fetch out of the dark rolls of ancient tradition, and much less to create, or fashion for themselves, out of their own proper stock of ingenuity and invention. Had such been their unhappy circumstances, there would be reason enough to presume that their system was defective. For the first attempts towards perfection in any art, or science, will not bear a comparison with those happier and more successful efforts, which a length of time and continued application enable men tu make. But the case of those good men, we know, was wholly different. They had only