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THE extracts which compose this volume were not intended, when taken from their native soil, to appear again in the shape of a book; but were simply the product of a few leisure hours, and were collected expressly for the use and amusement of the compiler.
To know more to-day than we knew yesterday; to understand what before seemed obscure and puzzling ; to contemplate the general system of truth, and to compare various and different objects, is an agreeable occupation of the mind, which, beside the present enjoyment it affords, elevates the faculties above mean pursuits, and helps our reason to exercise an appropriate dominion over them.
Expansion, or the desire to acquire knowledge, appears to be the natural disposition of the soul; as was manifested by the desire of our first parents to partake of that mystic tree which stood in the midst of Paradise;
but this desire, at least in apostate man, is wild and romantic, and often betrays him into serious evil, when not duly regulated. If at any time it should be directed to improper objects, or pursued in a wrong direction, it will produce that "knowledge, which puffeth up," and will terminate in "vanity and vexation of spirit." But there is a species of knowledge, which, if rightly pursued, will leave behind it no trace of its own vanity, but will ennoble and purify the mind: it is the knowledge which is embraced in the emphatic motto
"Man, know thyself; all wisdom centres there."
In order to correct all my own wandering notions and keep them "at home," in the pursuit of useful knowledge, and to fill up my leisure hours to advantage, I many years ago adopted this maxim-that I would read, mark, and learn all such things as had, directly or indirectly, any reference to myself, either for time or eternity; and the reader (if such there should chance to be) will find that "SELF" is the hero of the piece, from beginning to end.
"Retire, and commune with thy heart;
Ask whence thou cam'st, and what thou art;
Thy station too, why here assign'd.
The search will teach thee life to prize,
And make thee grateful, good, and wise."
"KNOW THYSELF," is one of the most useful and comprehensive precepts in the whole moral system; and it is well known in how great veneration this maxim was held by the ancients, and how necessary the duty of self-examination was considered, as the means of its attainment.
Thales, the Milesian, who is said
to have been the author of this maxim, was wont to observe, that for a man to know himself is the hardest thing in the world. It was afterwards adopted by Chylon the Lacedemonian, and is one of those three precepts which Pliny affirms to have been consecrated at Delphos in golden letters. It was afterwards greatly admired and frequently used by others, till at length it acquired the authority of a divine oracle, and was supposed to have been given by Apollo himself. Of which general opinion Cicero gives us this reason: "Because it hath such a weight of sense and wisdom in it as appears too great to be attributed to any man." And this opinion of its coming originally from Apollo himself, was, perhaps, the reason that it was written in golden capitals over the door of his temple at Delphos.*
But we need not go to the heathen, to borrow this maxim; we have it at home, in our own mother tongue, precept upon precept, in the sacred Scriptures; wherein
we find it written-Examine yourselves-Prove your own selves—Let a man examine himself—Commune with your own heart, &c. &c.
In order to reduce my thoughts into a kind of system, I first began by considering Man, (i.e. myself,) as a machine, moved by springs and levers; I then proceeded to examine the furniture, or the intellectual powers of the mind; and lastly, I directed my attention to man as a creature of God's peculiar regard, for whom the incarnate Saviour bled; and these I have again subdivided into the following particulars:
His birth-Childhood-Boyhood-Age of Puberty, -Manhood-His general character in the scale of being -A survey of his body, anatomically considered-The Passions-The Mind-Ideas-Thoughts-ImaginationReason-Conscience-The Soul, its immortality proved by learned doctors and from the Scriptures-The authenticity of the Scriptures-That the soul is marred by sinThe nature of Original Sin-The Plan of Salvation, showing how God can be just, in the salvation of sin
1. The Sovereignty of God in Election, and the Covenant of Grace.
2. Redemption-The Atonement-Imputed Righteousness, and Justification.
3. The Work of the Holy Spirit, as exemplified in Effectual Calling-Regeneration or the New BirthAdoption, and Conversion.
4. The part that Man has to perform in his own Salvation, which has been considered under the heads of Repentance-Prayer-Faith-Hope-Charity, &c. &c.
5. The nature of, and union to, a Christian Church-Baptism and the Lord's Supper-Good Works— Proper Use of Time-The Perseverance of the Saints.
6. Death-The Grave- Resurrection-Judgment ment to come, Heaven, and Hell.
Thus, with a view to aid my acquaintance with the above particulars, I have gleaned from a small library which I have in my possession, with the assistance of a few borrowed books, the opinions of great and good men, upon nearly all theological subjects.
I most cordially agree with the author of the Temple of Truth, "That nothing can be relished but in proportion as it is understood." And again, with Bishop Beveridge, "The knowing of a thing is the soul's enjoy. ment of it; the understanding being to the soul, what the senses are to the body." It is not enough that we have a confused, general notion of things: unless the mind