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DELIVERED BY THE REV. S. ROBINS,
AT BAKER STREET CHAPEL, SUNDAY EVENING, SEPT. 8, 1833.
Ecclesiastes, i. 18.—“ In much wisdom is much grief and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow."
Ir is highly important that we should keep in mind, as well in respect of the declarations of Scripture, as of the maxims of mere temporal and secular concernment, that many things which, in one point of their application, are altogether undeniable, may in another point be contrary to reason and experience; that many positions which up to a certain limit are true beyond all question, may, if strained, and urged beyond that limit, become as evidently untrue. The words of the text may serve as an illustration of this principle. The intended application is clearly of limited extent; if it were universal, it would involve a paradox; and it would assert that which is contrary not only to the testimony of our own minds, but to the plain statements which are made in many other places of the word of GOD. There is wisdom which bringeth no grief; and there is knowledge whose increase implies no increase of sorrow. We shall find in the Bible no plea for ignorance. "That the soul be without knowledge it is not good," is the declaration of Scripture: and
they are rendering a mighty disservice to religion, who represent it as disconnected with the cultivation of the mental powers. Of all the gifts which the Lord has bestowed upon his creatures, none ranks higher, or involves weightier responsibility than the gift of intellect. No endowment with which He has invested them can be ranged in its importance above that, by which man is separated, and marked off, from the lower creation, and by which he is made to differ from the beasts that perish. On the great reckoning day, when the debt book is opened, and we are held to account for the employment of even the lowest faculties with which we have been gifted; that will surely not be overlooked, or unheeded, which is the distinguishing prerogative of our nature, and by which we are adapted to study the attributes of GOD, and to serve and glorify Him for ever. The talent must be used, not laid by; it must be put out to interest, not hidden in a napkin, nor buried in the earth.
It is indeed a high and noble thing,
of cultivated minds for the achieve-
to consecrate our minds, with all their
extravagant, and antiscriptural doctrines, we are told the case is one to which the ordinary process by which error is refuted, cannot be applied: it is in vain that unanswerable arguments are urged, the expected result does not follow, but occasion is still given to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme, and the hearts of those who love his name, are depressed and saddened, as they see one, and another of the weaker brethren made to stumble, and wander from the narrow way. The apostolical injunction to be " ready to give an answer to every man that asketh a reason of the hope that is in us," is addressed not only the distinguised and highly gifted champions of Gospel truth, but it belongs with as much directness, and force of application, to those whose position is far lower, and whose attainments are of a far meaner order. If we would be kept from imbibing erroneous opinions which must hinder our own souls, and may be the cause of hindrance to others, we must bring the powers of reason to bear upon the subjects of revelation, in a simple and prayerful dependance upon the spirit, without whose teaching indeed, human powers could not avail for the discovery of the least fragments of divine truth. Such an employment of mind, the words, which I have chosen for our present topic, are far indeed from discouraging. And in order to set this matter before you with more clearness, and precision, I will consider in the first place, some of the cases in which the application of the text is undeniable; and in the second place, some of those in which no application of it can be made.
As to the first head of our subject, we may say in general and compendious terms, that the text applies to all the acquisitions of knowledge, which are independent of GoD, and from which considerations of the soul,
and of eternity are excluded. The limitation of the sphere of human science, must necessarily produce dissatisfaction, and disappointment. When it has been urged to its farthest extent, its discoveries are but mean and ignoble in comparison of what remains yet unknown; its acquisitions are little worth, when contrasted with the extent of the field which can never be brought within its grasp, and compass. If it be applied to the objects, and operations of external nature, it soon reaches the boundary line beyond which its investigations cannot advance. It may accumulate facts, and by a careful, and precise induction form a system; connecting together various phenomena, it may pronounce of one class, that they are cause, and of another, that they are effect; but of their mode of influence, or of the exact relation which they bear to each other, nothing is known. And if science be applied to trace out the machinery, and operations of our own minds, the result is still less satisfactory. One generation of metaphysicians builds up a system, which another generation employs itself to pull down and to destroy.
Human knowledge is, moreover, confined within as narrow limits in point of time. The present is that which it can alone claim. The annals of past ages convey falsehoods intermingled with truth; so that the most patient and unwearied research cannot distinguish between fact and fiction and infinitely the larger portion of the transactions, which have occupied the millions of mankind, have obtained no record, and have left no memorial. Of the mighty future which lies beyond the boundary of time, of that inconceivably long existence to which the present life forms but the commencement and the vestibule, uuassisted reason can make no discovery. There hath no voice come
to us, but the voice of revelation, and | ledge which will not profit him. You
of God, to tell us of our own everlasting destiny: and it must remain wrapped in concealment and mystery, to him who rejects this teaching. He may have toiled patiently and unweariedly, and he may have been pointed at with the finger, as the wisest among the wise; but unless he has been taught in a better school, he knows nothing of eternity; and all | the acquisitions by which he has been distinguished from his fellows, will have no bearing upon its weighty concernments. "Whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away: whether there be tongues they shall cease." He may have taken larger strides than his contemporaries, in the field of human attainments; and he may be able to illustrate his chosen subjects, with such eloquence, that rivetted attention hangs upon his words; but in spite of the admiration which he excited, he must soon go down to the quiet chamber of the grave; the tongue which spoke with such force and persuasion will be put to silence; the distinction which he earned by mental superiority must cease, and his very name will after a few generations be forgotten.
might see the sad spectacle of such an one sinking to an untimely tomb, because he followed his one object too intently and too devotedly; labouring during the day, and stealing hours from repose, that he might spend his waning strength over the nightly lamp; until the hectic colour settles upon his pale sunken cheek ; till, with wasted limbs and unstrung nerves, he bears in the aspect of his emaciated form the evidence of premature decay. And while he is sacrificing so much for intellectual distinction, he is keenly and painfully sensible of neglect. He feels himself a lonely and forsaken creature. The world is too busy to mark his doings ; mankind are too much occupied by their own several engagements, to care for his success. Others there are of firmer temperament and bolder spirit, who are rising to distinction, and grasping the splendid rewards which society has to bestow: they are better suited to struggle with the world: and though they may belong to a far inferior class of minds, they have battled with the stream, and have planted their feet upon the vantage ground, on which his eye But there are circumstances in and his hope have long been vainly which sorrow more directly tracks fixed. He goes down to his grave; the footprints of that wisdom, which and with him may be buried the is of the earth. The annals of human bright expectations of parents, who, science, the history of students in with the willing credulity of the human learning, might furnish forth heart, believed no object too high many a heart-rending page. We might for his attainment: or the last hopes read of many an one, who having of his own home circle to whom he ardently pursued the object which was the centre of affection and deseemed to promise most of reputation light. This ardent pursuit of knowand advancement, has derived from ledge, this uncheered and unmitigated his pursuit only the keenness of dis- toil has destroyed many a life. And appointment, and the bitterness of a if there be no revelation of the truth broken heart. At this time, and of God to the heart; if no dawning of within the compass of this crowded spiritual day hath broken upon the city, you might go into many a cham- darkness of the soul; if the gospel of ber, where the scholar is consuming the Lord Jesus Christ has never come life itself, in the acquirement of know-with its converting and healing power,
it is not easy to imagine a death-bed in the natural heart, and rises in demore uncheered and unhappy. The termined hostility against the humman feels, when he is dying, that a bling doctrines of the cross, will be deceived heart has turned him aside; increased by continual accessions, he sees that he has been labouring for and as we advance successfully in that which is not bread; that he has the acquirements of human knowbeen spending life, with all its ener- ledge, we shall be tempted to comgies, devoting the mind, with all its pare ourselves with those of meaner bright and powerful faculties, for attainments, from whose ranks we that which could not satisfy the soul, have stepped forward, and wanting nor comfort his spirit in the hour of the counterbalance of grace in the need. heart, we shall be further removed from the simplicity of that childlike spirit, in which it is required that we should go as learners into the school of Jesus Christ.
To be thus turned aside from Him who is the source of present blessing and eternal hope, will sooner or later be felt to be an evil and a bitter thing. It issues not unfrequently in yet more disastrous effects. The mind which has been so deeply engaged in following the discoveries of science and gathering stores of intellectual treasure, in ways which it has
Human knowledge, while it is unsanctified by grace, tends to lead us away from God. We may become so absorbed in the contemplation of the Creator's works; in tracing the various processes through which they pass, and the various laws to which they are subject, as to forget the high attributes of the Creator Himself. We may be so engrossed by the gifts which he has bestowed with a free and liberal hand, as to be altogether forgetful of the Bounteous Giver. It is a saddening proof of the ingratitude of the heart, and of the utter depra-shaped vity to which our nature has fallen, that the very faculties of mind, the lofty and noble endowments, which the Lord has bestowed, are so often made the means of widening the gulf of separation which divides us from Him. We may embark so ardently in the cause of human wisdom, that while we advance, step by step, to higher and more envied attainments, we may, in exactly the same degree, be travelling into a region of remoteness from God; and while we use His gifts for the achievement of our present purpose, we may consign to inconsideration the condition of responsibility which he has annexed, and from which we cannot finally escape, that they should be used to His glory, in the promotion of His own everlasting purposes. The effect will be to keep us far from God, since the pride which chambers itself
out independently of God, may at length, in the uncurbed pride of reason, reject the evidence for the truth of his revealed word; may deny his providential interference in the transactions of the earth; and plunging yet deeper in the abyss of unbelief, may join the fool of old, in denying his very existence. If there be a human creature whose condition might well excite profounder pity than that of others; it is he, who being a wanderer in the wilderness, has quenched in his soul the light which would have guided him on his way; who being born to an inheritance of sor
has closed against himself the only well-spring of abiding comfort. Such an one may not only present the fearful spectacle of infidelity in his own person, but with an unholy devotedness, he may use his influence and his talents, in perverting the faith of others, and making them the same