Billeder på siden
PDF
ePub

ON HUMILITY,

THERB is a passage in the Offices of Cicero, where that extraordinary writer is led by the course of his subject to contrast for a moment, the stern and masculine virtues which the Ancients arranged under the head of Fortitude, with those milder graces which they assigned to the class of Temperance. Meekness, or lowliness of character, was included in this latter description; and the philosopher ventures to express a doubt (though it is only a doubt), whether the decided pre-eminence usually attributed to the class of Fortitude, might not be more questionable than moral writers had been accustomed to imagine.

Truth has in general stolen gradually upon mankind; and, like the day, has been visible in imperfect glimpses and flashes of light before the full orb has appeared above the horizon, What the Roman philosopher faintly saw and timidly suggested, (so faintly that it appears in no sensible measure to have influenced his theories ; so timidly that perhaps a similar intimation might be sought for in vain among all his other volumes.) Christianity plainly affirmed, and most distinctly promulgated. And such has been the progress of knowledge in this department, such is at present the concurrence of opinion among thinking men, that one of the ablest advocates* of Revealed Religion has enumerated among the characteristic features which establish its Divine Original, the declaration of a truth, which, even in au advanced age of the Heathen learning, Cicero barely ventured to intimate.

Of the virtues which the Ancient Philosophy somewhat slighted, aud which Christianity studiously exalts, Humility and Benevolence are certainly the most considerable; in their nature the most excellent, in their operation the most extensive. To the first of these I propose to devote the present paper; and I may perhaps hereafter find an occasion to offer a few remarks on the second.

The moral character which we now agree in attributing to Humility, does not depend exclusively on the discoveries which Revelation has opened ; nor does its value solely rest on the authority of the sacred writings, and the exalted station there assigned to it. This virtue is indisputably a part of Natural Religion. It is a plain result from those truths which were capable of being discovered, as they are plainly demonstrable, without the intervention of miraculous assistance. Every theory, not absolutely atheistical, which admits the existence of a God, and supposes the dependence of the creature on the Creator, necessarily implies the obligation of Humility; of that modest and lowly disposition,

. Dr. Paley.

which these simple and primitive relations render manifestly becoming in a being such as Man. Wbether we consider the immeasurable distance which separates us from the great Author of the universe, or reflect on our absolute depeydence upon bis bounty : whether we raise our eyes to contemplate the majesty, the power, and the perfections of God; or direot them within and around us, to trace the vestiges of human weakness, and survey the monu, ments of human folly; one sentiment must coptinually press on every just and reflecting mind ;= a sentiment of self-abasement; a feeling of imbecility; a consciousness of unimportance: a deep and growing amazement at the wonders which surround us; a conviction that God is every thing, and man nothing;

It would have been happy if this truth had been as universally recognized in practisė, as it is in theory natural and obvious, The most eminent among the opposers of Revelation have not ordinarily commenced their speculations, wherever they may have ended them, with questioning the existence of God, or the moral government of the universe. These are tenets which the enemies, as well as the advocates of Christianity, have generally treated as indisputable; and though a few of the hardier and more acute disputants, vexed with the consequences which pressed upon them, or confounded by their own presumption, have ventured ultimately to assail the foundations of all Religion, there can be no doubt that a large majority of those who have sejected Christianity, have in all ages admitted the first great articles of our faith-a Deity, and his Providence. Had these men duly considered what are the obligations which even so short a creed involves; had they reflected that Modesty, Docility, and a just Diffidence in our own understandings, are duties as plain and peremptory, even to those who question the truths of Revelation, as to those who admit them; it is highly probable that their enquiries would, in many instances, have conducted them, though by a route somewhat circuitous, into that very path which they despised for its obscurity, and which we believe to be the highway of Truth and Happiness. It is certain at least that such considerations conscientiously regarded, would have destroyed in the birth all those profane and blasphemous writings, which, both in this country and upon the continent, have been the disgrace of the eighteenth century; which have shocked the pious, alarmed the weak, and corrupted the ignorant and unstable. Certainly it would be no mean blessing, could we be deeply persuaded, that Pride, Presumption, and Temerity, whether in speculation or practice, are contrary to our very condition as Men; condemned by every system of Faith, and every theory of Morals: and taking refuge only in that profligate Scepticism which confounds all opinions, all sentiments, and all actions, in one common Chaos.

Nor are these considerations unworthy the attention even of those who profess to be directed by the highest principles. A frequent contemplation of the majesty and perfections of God has a powerful tendency to humble as well as exalt the mind. If the ordinary emotions of Nature, the pealing Thunder or raging Ocean, the shock of an Earthquake or blaze of a Volcano, are sufficient to fill us with amazement, so that we have need of an effort to collect our scattered spirits, and stand astonished at the sense of our helplessness ; what must be the sensations that will press upon the soul, in approaching that awful Being, whose Word peopled the heavens with unnumbered worlds, and clothed with glory this bright Creation ; whose touch can dissolve in an instant the mighty arch which He erected, and sweep away for ever its glittering fragments, like the memory of a dream that is past! If the contemplation of the great master-pieces of human art or genius has so affected the minds of men capable of appreciating their excellence, that they have turned away with a mingled sentiment of admiration and despondency*, what adoring humility, what self-abasement exalted into rapture must touch the soul which becomes familiar with God, the source of all excellence, the mirror of all beauty, the cen

* Plato, we are told, gave up all thoughts of excelling in Epic Poetry in consequence of Reading Homer. A young Flemish Painter, of some promise, actually died of despair and mortification on seeing one of the chefs d'auvres of Raphael. 1 knew a gentleman of good parts, who intended, at his entry into Parliament, to have spoken frequently, but relinquished the idea after hearing Mr. Pitt.

« ForrigeFortsæt »