Зображення сторінки
PDF
ePub

intellectual power, alone, their glory is based. Europe, since the revival of letters, has produced a multitude of men, distinguished by that species of power. United together they form a splendid constellation of intellectual light. Considered intellectually they are all greatmany of them superlatively great—so great, that for ages they have been the objects of envy, of praise, of admiration, and of idolatry. A number of these illustrious men, however, have been, although in an inferior degree, also distinguished for moral qualities; but these have brought them small praise. The great Idol of European worship is at this hour, and, ever since the revival of letters, has been— Intellect! This is one of the most affecting indications of our fallen state. To the eye of man, blinded by pride and passion, there is no lustre, no glory in the greatness which is moral. This is nothing new. When he “who is the image of the invisible God”-he “in whom dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily,”—appeared among the Jews, even after they had for many centuries enjoyed the instructions of inspired men, he had, in their view, no form nor comeliness :" when they saw him, there was “no beauty." Hence they “ despised and rejected him, and esteemed him not.” So it was ; so it still is: they who most resemble Christ have fewest charms for a world lying in wickedness. From this pride and perverseness arises man's uniform preference of mental to moral excellence; and hence, too, his uniform admiration of the literary and philosophic, and his uniform contempt of the missionary character. It may contribute to expose the folly and injustice of this course if I group the literary and philosophic chiefs of Modern Europe, according to their several walks and

pursuits, and endeavour to measure their moral stature, aplying to them the principles of true greatness as set forth by Cicero, and contained in the sacred Scriptures.* This process will, I doubt not, result in establishing the immense superiority of the missionary character.

Justice demands that we commence with Bacon, the patriarch of true philosophy, the common father of literary and scientific men. Before his intellectual greatness that of all others shrinks into littleness. Amid all preceding philosophers he shines like the sun among the stars. The comprehensiveness of his understanding was equalled only by its penetration. Soaring in the heavens his eagle eye not only surveyed the ocean of human knowledge from shore to shore, but pierced its waters to their lowest bed. His judgment was not greater than his genius. His imagination had made a property of the universe—it extended to all thingsand its magnificent combinations were illimitable. His abilities fitted him to have been the historian of universal nature, while his sagacity was such as to enable him to become the prophet of human knowledge ; for prophesy he did, and many of his sublime predictions have to the letter been fulfilled. His eminence was unexampled, and must remain unrivalled: he is the Melchizedek of science. He united every excellence of the human mind; and stood pre-eminent in all the pursuits of the understanding. As an intellectual being he stands alone, clothed with a robe of matchless honour, and bearing a crown of imperishable glory. But viewing him simply as a stupendous, all-compre

* See p. 273, supra.

hending, all-penetrating, intelligence, while there is every thing to admire, there is nothing to lore. Man feels himself poor, helpless, dependent; and he looks for sympathy as the only sure pledge of succour. His hope is from the heart, rather than from the understanding, of his fellow man. On this ground it is that so much importance attaches to the ethical writings of Bacon. There we find that the great expounder of science is also the friend of man. Of all that he spake or wrote of nature, there is nothing, in point of true greatness, to be compared with his declaration relative to the end of legislation :-“ The ultimate object which legislators ought to have in view, and to which all their enactments and sanctions ought to be subservient, is that the citizens may live happily.” This sentiment, you will allow, is generous and noble, as implying some portion of philanthropy. His works, I need not remind you, contain several similar assertions, but nothing that is more demonstrative of his benevolence. Abstaining from all ungracious reference to his moral infirmitieshis reputed selfishness, servility and weakness—and thus giving him every advantage, surely all candid men will see at a glance Bacon's immense inferiority to the Christian missionary in point of moral greatness. He was by no means, however, without moral greatness; but he possessed it in a very low degree, and at times its operations in him were more than obscured by contrary qualities. Still Bacon is to be numbered among the most extensive secular benefactors of mankind, though, in such benefaction, there is little that is in the highest sense moral. Difficulty, labour, danger, and sacrifice were wanting to his work, which was very much an affair of safe and solitary meditation. The moral

greatness of such men as John Williams infinitely surpasses that of the philosophical Lord Chancellor of England! Man and his misery, Christ and his cross, the destruction of idolatry in all lands, and the recovery of man to the favour and service of God, the tuition of the whole human race in knowledge, saving, useful, and ornamental, and the conversion of all nations into one wise and peaceful, one holy and happy community of friends, are objects not contemplated by the Baconian philosophy. The devout and zealous superintendant of an English Sunday-school is a superior character, and occupies a higher station than the author of the Novum Organon. The Martyr of Erromanga, in moral glory, transcends this great ornament of human science as far as the heavens transcend the earth!

Having spoken of the patriarch, I shall now proceed, with all deference, to offer some observations respecting the heads of tribes. In doing this, I shall confine the selection principally to England and to France, and shall commence with Bayle. Concerning the mental powers of this remarkable man, there are not two opinions. It will be allowed by all, that they were of the first class, and that his ability was not greater than his diligence. In his own nation he was the principal literary character of his age ; but his power did not so much consist in the discovery of new facts and doctrines as in new arrangements, in fresh exhibitions of the materials which were ready prepared. At his death he left the boundaries of knowledge nearly as he found them. He was born with the genius of a great critic; cold, keen, fearless, reckless, merciless, often unjust. His great gift lay in unsettling every thing, while he built up nothing. “In logical quickness, and metaphysical subtlety," as Dugald

Stewart observes, “ Bayle has never been surpassed." He was an unbeliever in Revelation, and a promoter of unbelief. God was not in all his thoughts; and hence he had neither faith, hope, nor charity. He possessed not a single quality of moral greatness. Had he never existed, morals would have sustained no loss, and religion would have been a great gainer. Had his works been entombed with him, the cause of real humanity would have had no reason for lamentation. He had no benevolence, no philanthropy. The humblest native teacher of Christianity in Polynesia, infinitely excels him in moral worth. In the day when all secrets shall be revealed, who of the human race will embrace him as a benefactor ?

In looking at the leading literary characters of England, Addison presents himself as one who is entitled to special notice. His mind was not one of great power; but it certainly was one of unusual perfection. It was absolutely deficient in nothing. His judgment was singularly sound; his wit incomparable ; his imagination that of a poet of the highest order; his taste worthy of Athens; his style the perfection of beauty. Such were his natural powers; and they had received a high degree of cultivation. His abilities were greater than his attainments : but if his information was limited in its range, it was accurate in its character. The elegance, purity, and ease of his style, combined with the brevity of his productions, have contributed to deceive us into the notion that he was merely a polished, pretty trifler; whereas nothing was wanting to place him in the first class of writers, but the stimulus of hunger, ambition, or controversy. His very excellence has been confounded with defect; his ease and nature, by the vulgar eye,

« НазадПродовжити »