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THE LIGHT OF NATURE PURSUED.
LIGHTS OF NATURE AND GOSPEL BLENDED.
PARTITION OF THE GENERAL RULE.
NATURE has given to each species of animals some distinguishing power or quality for their preservation and entertainment. The lion lives by his courage : the elephant by his strength : the swine by his sturdiness. The squirrel delights in his agility : the swallow in the strength and swiftness of his wing. The spider seeks his maintenance from his cunning : the bee from her industry. The nation of flies and little fishes, artless and defenceless, exposed for a prey to all other creatures, subsist by their prolificness, multiplying them in greater numbers than all other creatures can destroy. To man she has given understanding to supply the want of strength, robustness, agility, and sagacity of instinct, wherein he falls short of his brother animals : and to make the qualities he finds in them subservient to his own uses. Therefore our understanding is the faculty it behoves us most sedulously to cultivate, because from that we may principally expect to receive a supply of our uses and enjoyments.
Yet we need not too much despise our fellow-creatures for the want of it: for we cannot enter into their ideas, nor know for certain whether their lives do not pass as pleasurably as our own. We know our pains are doubled by reflection, and perhaps it does not add much to our pleasures, which are made thereby to satiate the sooner: if we have funds of entertainment unknown to them, we have likewise many sources of disquietude and anx
iety in our consciousness and foresight, from which they are exempt: nor have there been those wanting among us who have acknowledged they passed happier days while children or schoolboys, than they ever tasted among the fruits of reason when ripened to full maturity. One thing we may rest assured of, that nature being established in perfect wisdom, assigns to every creature the faculties and powers suitable to its station : so that all alike perform their part in the public services of the universe.
Neither would it do us any good, nor ought it to give us any. pleasure, if we could prove the condition of other animals ever so wretched and despicable : for our happiness is to be estimated by the quantity we possess, not by the proportion it bears to that of other creatures. If their condition any ways affects us, it should be by the goodness of it; which will naturally incline us to think the most favorable of them possible. For as our heavenly Father displays his goodness by giving the young ravens their food when they cry, so we shall best display our own by rejoicing that they have their food when they cry for it: for the prospect of good and enjoyment anywhere is a feast to the rightly-turned mind. Therefore instead of delighting to draw comparisons between ourselves and the irrational tribes, or studying to exaggerate our own nobility and pre-eminence of privileges above them, we should better imitate the most perfect of all beings by entertaining a good will and favorable inclination towards them; which
1 would keep our ears open to whatever can be suggested for their advantage, and make us even wish they might inherit a portion in futurity, if any solid argument can be brought in support of it.
Nevertheless, as water supplies breath to fishes, and hay nourishes the cattle, yet are unfit for the respiration and sustenance of man ; wherefore we choose the fresh air and wholesome food; not because a nobler kind of support, but because better suited to our constitution; so let us avail ourselves of our rational faculty, not for the pride of its superior excellence, but for its being more particularly adapted to our uses. For sense and appetite may prove infallible guides to the species put under their direction, yet would perpetually lead us astray: and nastiness, however giving a real enjoyment to the swine, perhaps greater than we find in our perfumes, or even in the contemplation of our sciences, would fill us with disorder and loathing. So that without thinking anything contemptible in itself wherever nature has placed it, we may despise bestial appetites as ignoble and unworthy of us, because we have another faculty we may employ to higher uses and nobler advantages than we can receive from them. Thus it becomes our glory to improve our understanding, to raise it above the mire of
appetite and passion, and approach as near as our capacities will permit to that openness and largeness of mind we believe belonging to superior orders of Being.
2. But as man differs from beasts in the faculty of understanding, so does one man differ from another in the degrees of this faculty. Yet he that posesses a large share need not think himself more highly favored by Heaven, nor despise his weaker brother upon that account; for his talents are given him for the public service, so that others have an interest in them equally with himself: nor can we doubt that Providence dispenses to every one the qualifications proper for performing the part he has to act, and which rightly employed may be productive of happiness, the only thing that makes all other possessions valuable. Therefore let every one, according as provided by nature or education with the means of cultivating his understanding, improve it to the greatest height he can attain, as the task peculiarly assigned him, deeming it ignoble and unbecoming to stand at a lower pitch: yet without thinking meanly of others who are called to other duties. For true honor results, not from the talents we posess, nor the part allotted us, but from the manner of our employing them, and the just
, ness of our action.
But the inprovement of understanding goes on by slow degrees, and the first advances towards it are made by laying in a stock of materials, whose uses we are to find out after we have secured the possession of them. Hence comes the desire of kuowledge which the inquisitive mind thirsts after, even in matters of curiosity and speculation; as not knowing what real benefit may be afterwards stricken out of them. Besides, the work of science being large, requires many laborers to take in hand the several parts of it: so that a man has a chance of being useful by making discoveries whereof he can find no use, because the materials he furnishes may be turned to good advantage by somebody else. Nevertheless, use being the proper end of knowledge, it behoves us to turn our inquiries into the way that may lead to something profitable : leaving nothing to other hands that we are capable of exe
: cuting ourselves.
Upon this principle I have endeavoured to conduct myself in the two former volumes : wherein how much soever dealing in matters of curiosity and novelty, I have all along had real benefit in view; and have passed over several curious subjects occurring upon the way, because they seemed unavailing to the main purpose. . It having been my intention to draw up such a scheme of nature and the fundamentals of natural religion, founded upon the basis of experience and observations resulting therefrom as might appear compact and consistent thoughout to the studious and dispas