« AnteriorContinuar »
Æsculapius, who was famous for cures and miracles of this nature. By this means the deity recovered his eyes, and begun to make a right use of them, by enriching every one that was distinguished by piety towards the gods, and justice towards men; and at the same time by taking away his gifts from the impious and undeserving. This produces several merry incidents, 'till in the last act Mercury descends with great complaints from the gods, that since the good men were growing rich, they had received no sacrifices, which is confirmed by a priest of Jupiter, who enters with a remonstrance, that since this late innovation be was reduced to a starving condition, and could not live upon his office. Chremylus, who in the beginning of the play was religious in his poverty, concludes it with a proposal which was relished by all the good men who were now grown rich as well as himself, that they should carry Plutus in a solemn procession to the temple, and instal him in the place of Jupiter. This allegory instructed the Athenians in two points; first, as it vindicated the conduct of Providence in its ordinary distributions of wealth ; and in the next place, as it shewed the great tendency of riches to corrupt the morals of those who possessed them.
No. 465. SATURDAY, AUGUST 23.
Quâ ratione queas traducere leniter ævum;
Hoe. 1 Ep. xvii. 07.
Having endeavoured in my last Saturday's paper to shew the great excellency of faith, I shall here consider what are the proper means of strengthening and confirming it in the mind of man. Those who delight in reading books of controversy, which are written on both sides of the question in points of faith, do very seldom arrive at a fixed and settled babit of it. They are one day entirely convinced of its important truths, and the next weet with something that shakes and disturbs them. The doubt which was laid revives again, and shews itself in new difficulties, and that generally for this reason, because the mind which is perpetually tost in controversies and disputes, is apt to forget the reasons which had once set it at rest, and to be disquieted with any former perplexity, when it appears in a new shape, or is started by a different hand. As nothing is more laudable than an inquiry after truth, so nothing is more irrational than to pass away our whole lives, without determining ourselves one way or other in those points which are of the last importance to us. There are indeed many things from which we may withhold our assent; but in cases by which we are to regulate our lives, it is the greatest absurdity to be wavering and unsettled, without closing with that side which appears the most safe and the most probable. The first rule, therefore, which I shall lay down is this, that when by reading or discourse we find ourselves thoroughly convinced of
the truth of any article, and of the reasonableness of our belief in it, we should never after suffer ourselves to call it into ques. tion. We may perhaps forget the arguments which occasioned our conviction, but we ought to remember the strength they had with us, and therefore still to retain the conviction which they once produced. This is no more than what we do in every common art or science, nor is it possible to act otherwise, considering the weakness and limitation of our intellectual faculties. It was thus that Latimer, one of the glorious army of martyrs who introduced the reformation in England, behared himself in that great conference which was managed between the most learned among the Protestants and Papists in the reign of Queen Mary. This venerable old man knowing how his abilities were impaired by age, and that it was impossible for him to recollect all those reasons which had directed him in the choice of his religion, left his companions who were in the full possession of their parts and learning, to baffle and confound their antagonists by the force of reason. As for himself, he only repeated to his adversaries the articles in which he firmly believed, and in the profession of which he was determined to die. It is in this manner that the mathematician proceeds upon propositions which he has once demonstrated; and though the demonstration may have slipt out of his memory, he builds upon the truth, because he knows it was demonstrated. This rule is absolutely necessary for weaker minds, and in some measure for men of the greatest abilities; but to these last I would propose in the second place, that they should lay up in their memories, and always keep by them in readiness, those arguments which appear to them of the greatest strength, and which cannot be got over by all the doubts and cavils of infidelity.
But, in the third place, there is nothing which strengthens faith more than morality. Faith and morality naturally produce each other. A man is quickly convinced of the truth of religion, who finds it is not against his interest that it should be true. The pleasure he receives at present, and the happiness which he promises himself from it hereafter, will both dispose him very powerfully to give credit to it, according to the ordinary observation, that we are easy to believe what we wish.' It is very certain, that a man of sound reason cannot forbear closing with religion upon an impartial examination of it; but at the same time it is as certain, that faith is kept alive in us, and gathers strength from practice more than from speculation.
There is still another method which is more persuasive than any of the former, and that is an habitual adoration of the Supreme Being, as well in constant acts of mental worship, as in outward forms. The devout man does not only believe but feels there is a Deity. He has actual sensations of him; his experience concurs with his reason; he sees him more and more in all his intercourses with him, and even in this life almost loses his faith in conviction.
The last method which I shall mention for the giving life to man's faith, is frequent retirement from the world, accompanied with religious meditation. When a man thinks of any thing in the darkness of the night, whatever deep impressions it may make in his mind, they are apt to vanish as soon as the day breaks about him. The light and noise of the day, which are perpetually soliciting his senses, and calling off his attention, wear out of his mind the thoughts that imprinted themselves in it, with so much strength, during the silence and darkness of the night. A man finds the same difference as to himself in a crowd and in a solitude : the mind is stunned and dazzled amidst that variety of objects which press upon her in a great city: she cannot apply herself to the consideration of those things which are of the utmost concern to her. The cares or pleasures of the world strike
in with every thought, and a multitude of ricious eramples gire a kind of justification to our folly. In our retirements every thing disposes is to be serious. In courts and cities se are entertained with the works of men; in the coultry with those of God. One is the province of art, the other of nature. Faith and devotion naturally grow in the mind of every reasonable man, who sees the impressions of divine power and wisdom in every object on which he casts his eye. The Supreme Being has made the best arguments for his own existence, in the formation of the heavens and the earth, and these are arguments which a man of sense cannot forbear attending to, who is out of the noise and hurry of human affairs. Aristotle says, 'that should a man live under ground, and there converse with the works of art and me chanism, and should afterwards be brought up into the open day, and see the several glories of the heaven and earth, he would immediately pronounce them the works of such a being as we define God to be.' The psalmist has very beautiful strokes of poetry to this purpose, in that exalted strain, 'The heavens declare the glory of God: and the firmament sheweth his handy-work. One day telleth another : and one night certificth another. There is neither speech por language: but their voices are heard among them. Their sound is gone into all lands: and their words into the ends of the world. As such a bold and sublime manner of thinking furnishes very noble matter for an ode, the reader may soe it wrought into the following one.