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THERE is none of our little accomplishments, or advantages, which we are not apt to make the foundation of pride and vanity. When, upon comparing ourselves with others, in any respect, we entertain a higher opinion of ourselves than we ought, this sentiment is called PRIDE. And when we are forward to express the good opinion, we have of ourselves, to others, in our words or actions, (even though such opinion be but proportioned to our desert)
we give to this disposition the name of VANITY. Each of these affections of the mind is, a real vice: Pride, because it violates truth and reason; and Vanity, because it violates Christian charity.
But, of all the subjects of comparison which betray us into these vices, none is thought to produce i hem so easily, and to inflame them to that degree, as learning or knowledge. And we see the reason why it should be so. For knowledge arises from the exertion of our best and noblest faculties; those faculties which distinguish us to most advantage, not only from the inferior creatures, but from each other. Hence we are naturally led to place a higher value on this, than other acquisitions ; and to make our pride and boast of that which is, indeed, the glory of our nature.
The observation then seems well founded ; and the Apostle advances no more than what experience teaches, when he affirms in the text—THAT KNOWLEDGE PUFFETH UP. Where, however, we are to take notice, that the remedy for this vice is not ignorance (which, though for different reasons, is as apt to engender pride and self-conceit, as knowledge itself) but Christian love and charity.' For, when the Apostle had brought this charge against knowledge, that it puffeth up, he does not say that ignorance keeps men humble, but that charity edifieth. Whence it appears, that, to correct this excess of self-love, which we call pride, the Apostle would not have us renounce the way of learning and knowledge, but only increase our love and respect for mankind,
Charity, then, is the proper cure of LEARNED PRIDE ; and of those unfriendly vices, which spring from it, sufficiency, self-importance, and ostentation : And it will be worth our while to consider, in what RESPECTS, and by what means, this divine principle of charity contributes to that end. And this it does
1. By keeping men steady to that OBJECT, which they ought to propose to themselves in the cultivation of knowledge, I mean the edification of each other —- charity edifieth.
One of the ancient sects of philosophy carried their admiration of knowledge so far, that they made it the supreme good of man, and built their whole moral system (if it might be called such) on this extravagant idea. Whereas, common sense, as well as religion, teaches, that knowledge, like our other faculties and attainments, is only an instrument of doing good to others ; not to be regarded by us, as the end of moral action, or a good simply in itself, but as one of those means by which we may express our moral character ; and promote the common interest of society, which (in subordination to the will and glory of God) is the proper end of man. Now, if we keep this end in view, which Christian charity sets before us, we shall neither cultivate knowledge for its own sake (which is a strain of fanaticism, unsuited to our present condition); nor for the sake of that complacency, which
apt to result from it; nor solely, for any other selfish purpose to which it may serve: but we shall chiefly and ultimately refer it to the use and edification of our brother; and shall therefore suppress that inordinate elation of heart and display of vainglory, which tend so much to obstruct the success of our applications to him in this way.
2. Charity, estimating the value of knowledge by the good it actually does to others, finds the very foundation of pride and vanity, , in the application of it, in a great measure taken away. For, how divine a thing soever knowledge may appear to the mind, when heated by speculation, we shall find, in practice, that it falls very much short of those glorious ideas we had formed of it; that the real service, we are enabled to do to mankind by our most improved faculties, affords but little occasion to the gratulations of self-esteem (which, when resulting from such service, are, no doubt, more pardonable than in any other case whatsoever); and that, if such gratulations arise in us from some slight and partial services done to others, they are sufficiently checked and mortified by the general ill success of our most strenuous endeavours, and best concerted designs. The philosopher and divine, after many studious days and sleepless nights, are ready to promise to themselves great effects from their systems and apologies. Alas, the world is little bettered or improved by them. Its amusements, its follies, its vices, take their usual course. Reason and knowledge are found but feeble instruments of its conversion. It attends so little, or so negligently to its instructors, that it remains almost as uninformed, and as corrupt as before.