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Even our very enquiries and disputations about " vacuuma or space and atoms, about incommensurable quantities, and the infinite divisibility of matter and eternal duration,” which seems to be purely speculative, will shew us some good practical lessons, will lead us to see the weakness of our nature, and should teach us humility in arguing upon divine subjects and matters of sacred revelation. This should guard us against rejecting any doctrine which is expressly and evidently revealed, though we cannot fully understand it. It is good sometimes to lose and bewilder ourselves in such studies for this very reason, and to attain this practical advantage, this improvemeät in true modesty of spirit.
XVI. Though we should always be ready to change our sentiments of things upon just conviction of their falsehood, yet there is not the same necessity of changing our accustomed methods of reading, or study and practice, even though we have not been led at first into the happiest method. Our thoughts may be true, though we may have hit upon an improper order of thinking. Truth does not always depend upon the most con. venient method. There may be a certain form and order in which we have long accustomed ourselves to range our ideas and potions, which may be best for us now, though it was not origipally best in itself. The inconveniences of changing may be much greater than the conveniencies we could obtain by a new method.
As for instance; if a'man in his younger days has ranged all bis sentiments in theology in the method of Ames' Medulla Theologiæ, or Bishop Usher's Body of Divinity, it may be much mure natural and easy for him to continue to dispose all bis further acquirements in the same order, though perhaps neither of these treatises are in themselves written in the most perfect method. So when we have long fixed our cases of shelves in a library, and ranged our. books in any particular order, viz. according to their languages, or according to their subjects, or according to the alphabetical names of the authors, &c. we are perfectly well acquainted with the order in which they now stand, and we can find any particular book which we seek, or add a new book which we have purchased with much greater ease than we do in finer cases of shelves where the books were ranged in any different manner whatsoever ; any different position of the volumes would be new, and strange, and troublesome to us, and would not countervail the inconveniences of a chaoge.
So if a man of forty years old has been taught to hold his pen awkwardly in his youth, and yet writes sufficiently well for all the purposes of his station, it is not worth while to teach bim now the most accurate methods of handling that instrument ; for this would create him more trouble without equal advantage, and
perhaps he might never attain to write better after he has placed all his fingers perfectly right with this new accuracy.
CHAP. XV.–Of fixing the Attention. A STUDENT should labour by all proper methods to ac. quire a steady fixation of thought. Attention is a very necessary thing in order to improve our minds. The evidence of truth does not always appear immediately, nor strike the soul at first sight. It is by long attention and inspection that we arrive at evidence, and it is for want of it we judge falsely of many things. We make baste to determine upon a slight and a sudden view; we confirm our guesses which arise from a glance; we pass a judgment while we have but a confused or obscure perception, and thus plunge ourselves into mistakes. This is like a man, who walking in a mist, or being at a great distance from any visible object, (suppose a tree, a man, a horse, or a church) judges much amiss of the figure and the situation and colours of it, and sometimes takes one for the other ; whereas if he would but withhold his judgment till be come nearer to it, or stay till clearer light comes, and then would fix his eyes longer upon it, he would secure himself from those mistakes. Now in order to gain a greater facility of attention we may observe these rules.
1. “Get a good liking to the study or knowledge you would pursue." We may observe that there is not much difficulty in confining the mind to contemplate what we have a great desire to know; and especially if they are matters of sense, or ideas which paint themselves upon the fancy. It is but “ acquiring an hearty good-will and resolution to search out and survey the various properties and parts of such objects,” and our attention will be engaged if there be any delight or diversion in the study or contemplation of them. Therefore mathematical studies have a strange influence towards fixing the attention of the mind, and giving a steadiness to a wandering disposition, because they deal much in lines, figures and numbers, which affect and please the sense and imagination. Histories have a strong tendency the same way, for they engage the soul by a variety of sensible occurrences ; when it hath begun, it knows not how to leave off'; it longs to know the final event through a natural curiosity that belongs to mankind. Voyages and travels, and accounts of strange countries, and strange appearances will assist in this work. This sort of study detains the mind by the perpetnal occurrence and expectation of something new, and that which may gratefully strike the imagination.
II. “ Sometimes we may make use of sensible things and corporeal images for the illustration of those notions which are
more abstracted and intellectual." Therefore diagrams greatly assist the mind in astronomy and philosophy; and the emhiems of virtues and vices, may bappily teach children, and pleasingly impress those useful moral ideas on young minds, which perhaps might bé conveyed to them with much more difficulty by mero moral and abstracted discourses.
. I confess in this practice of representing moral subjects by pictures, we should be cautious lesi we so far immerse the mind, in corporeal images, as to render it unfit to take in an abstracted and intellectual idea, or cause it to form wrong conceptions of immaterial things. This practice therefore is rather to be used at first in order to get a fixed habit of attention, and in some cases only ; but it can never be our constant way and method of pursuing all moral, abstracted and spiritual themes.
III. “ Apply yourself to those studies, and read those authors who draw out their subjects into a perpetual chain of convected reasonings," wherein the following parts of the discourse are naturally and easily derived from those which go before. Several of the mathematical sciences, if not all, are happily seful for this purpose. This will render the labour of study des ghtful to a rational mind, and will fix the powers of the under
anding with strong attention to their proper operations by the ***rý pleasure of it. Labor ipse voluptas, is a happy proposition veresoever it can be applied
IV." Do not chuse your constant place of study by the finery of the prospects, or the most various and entertaining scenes of sensible things.” Too much light, or a variety of objects which strike the eye or the ear, especially while they are ever in motion or often changing, have a natural and powerful tendency to steal away the mind 100 often from its steady pursuit of any subject which we contemplate ; and thereby the soul gets a habit of silly curiosity and impertinence, of trilling and wandering. Vagario thought himself furnished with the best closet for his study among the beauties, gaieties and diversions of Kensington or Hampton ? Court; but after seven years professing to pursue learning, he was a mere novice still.
V. “ Be not too much in haste to come to the determination of a difficult or important point." Think it worth your waiting to find out truth. Do not give your assent up to either side of a question too soon, inerely on this account, that the study of it is long and difficult. Rather be contented with ignorance for a season, and continue in suspense till your attention and meditation and due labour have found out sufficient evidence on one side.Some are so fond to know a great deal at once, and love to talk of things with freedom and boldness before they thoroughly una derstand them, that they scarcely ever allow themselves attention enough to search the matter through and through.
VI. “ Have a care of indulging the more sensual passions and appetites of animal nature ; they are great enemies to attention." Let not the mind of a student be under the influence of any warm affection to things of sense, when he comes to engage in the search of truth, or the improvement of his understanding. A person under the power of love, or fear, or anger, great pain or deep sorrow, hath so little government of his soul, that he cannot keep it attentive to the proper subject of bis meditation. The passions call away the thoughts with incessant importunity towards the object that excited them; and if we indulge the frequent rise and roving of passions, we shall thereby procure an unsteady and inattentive habit of mind. Yet this one exception must be admitted, viz. If we can be so happy as to engage any passion of the soul on the side of the particular study which we are pursuing, it may have a great influence to fix the attention more strongly to it.
VII. It is therefore very useful to fix and engage the mind in the pursuit of any study, by' a consideration of the “ divine pleasures of truth and knowledge;" by a sense of our duty to God, by a delight in the exercise of our intellectual faculties, by the hope of future service to our fellow-creatures, and glorious advantage to ourselves, both in this world and that which is to come. These thoughts, though they may move our affections, yet they do it with a proper influence; these will rather assist and proinote our attention, than disturb or divert it from the subject of our present and proper meditations. . A soul inspired with the fondest love of truth, and the warmest aspirations after sincere felicity and celestial beatitude, will keep all its powers attentive to the incessant pursuit of them ; passion is then refined, pod consecrated to its divinest purposes.
CHAP. XVI.--Of enlarging the Capacity of the Mind. . .
THERE are three things which in an especial manner go to make up that amplitude or capacity of mind, which is one of the noblest characters belonging to the understanding. (1.)
When the mind is ready to take in great and sublime ideas without pain or difficulty. (2.) When the mind is free to receive pew and strange ideas, upon just evidence, without great surprise or aversion. (3.) When the mind is able to conceive or survey many ideas at once without confusion, and to form a true judgment derived from that extensive survey.” The person who wants either of these characters may in that respect be said to have a narrow genius. Let us diffuse our meditations a little upon this subject.
1. That is an ample and capacious mind which is ready to take in vast and sublime ideas without pain or difficulty." Persons who have never been used to converse with any thing but the common, little and obvious affairs of life, have acquired a parrow or contracted habit of soul, that they are not able to stretch their intellecta wide enough to admit large and noble thoughts; they are ready to make their domestic, daily and familiar images of things the ideasure of all that is, and all that can be.
Talk to them of the vast dimepsions of the planetary worlds ; tell them that the star called Jupiter is a solid globe, two hundred and twenty times bigger tban our earth; that the sun is a vast globe of fire above a thousand times bigger than Jupiter; that is, two hundred and twenty thousand times bigger than the earth; that the “distance from the earth to the sun" is eighty-one millions of miles ; and that a canoon bullet shot from the earth would pot arrive at the “ nearest of the fixed stars" in some hundreds of years: they cannot bear the belief of it, but hear all these glorious labours of astronomy as a mere idle romance. . Inform them of the amazing swiftness of the motion of some of the smallest or the biggest bodies in nature ; assure thein, according to the best philosopby, that the planet Venus (that is, our morning or evening star, which is near as big as our eartb,) though it seems to move from its place but a few yards in a month, does really fly seventy thousand miles in an hour, tell them that the rays of light shoot from the sun to our earth at the rate of one hundred and eighty thousand miles in the second of a minute, they stand aghast at such sort of talk, and believe it no more than the tales of giants fifty yards high, and the rabbinical fables of leviathan, who every day swallows a fish of three miles long, and is thus preparing himself to be the food and entertainment of the blessed at the feast of Paradise.
These unenlarged souls are in the same manner. disgusted with the wonders which the microscope has discovered concerning the shape, the limbs, and motions of ten thousand little animals, whose united bulk would not equal a pepper corn : They are ready to give the lie to all the improvements of our senses by the invention of a variety of glasses, and will scarcely believe any thing beyond the testimony of their naked eye without the assistance of art. Now if we would attempt in a learned manner to relieve the minds that labour under this defect, . (1.) It is useful to begin with some first principles of Geometry, and lead them' onward by degrees to the doctrine of quantitics which are incommensurable, or which will admit of no common measure, though it be never so small. By this means they will see the necessity of admitting the “infinite divisibility of