O THE RELIGIOUS A D MORAL E DS OF K OWLEDGE. BY ARCHIBALD ALISO , LL. B.

Proverbb iii. 13, " Happy is the man that findeth wisdom, and the man that gcttefh iindnrstanding ! — She is more precious than rubies, and ail the things thou canst desire arc not to be compared unto her. Length of days is in her right l)and ; and in her left hand riches and honour. Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace." In these beautiful words Solomon describes the eifects of wisdom upon the honour and happiness of human life. — However warm or magnificent the praise which lie bestows, it is not the extravagance of youthful enthusiasm. It is the sober decision of age and experience : the opinion of one wlio had known every pleasure which life could offer him ; and who, in his grey hairs, tells the successor to his throne, that ^^ wisdom is more " precious" than all the splendours which surround it, and " that all the things he could desire, *^ are not to be compared unto her.*' * Preached at the conameDcerrent of tUo Academical Session In Edjnburjii.

MO O THE RELIGIOUS A D I have chosen these words, my brethren, for «ur present consideration, because there appears something in the time not unsuitable to their application. The season has now returned, when the annual business of education again begins ; when, for some months to come, the young of our

congregation are to be employed in the acquisition of knowledge ; and when tliis city itself exhibits one of its most honourable distinctions, — that of contributing to the instruction and improvement of youth. To the young themselves, it is the commencement of the most important and eventful period of their lives ; and to us, my elder brethren, it is a scene which we can scarcely regard, without many feelings of interest and tenderness. It reminds us of that beautiful expression of antiquity, " that the young among the people are lik& "the spring amid the seasons.'^ It leads even the most insensible of us, to form some kind wish that the fruits of their harvest may correspond to the opening of their spring ; and it leads us, too, very naturally, to the remembrance of our own youth ; and, while we think what are the duties of the present young, to consider what we ourselves have been doing since that important era has passed to us. At this time, therefore, I trust I shall be forgiven, if I dedicate this discourse to the young of our congregation ; — if I avail myself of the opportunity of the season, to encourage them in the pursuits which they have begun; — and if I

MORAL E DS OP K OWLEDCfe. Ill conclude, by pointing out to them the great ends to which all knowledge and wisdom ought finally to be applied. I. In every period of life, the acquisition of knowledge is one of the most pleasing employments of the human mind. But in youth there are circumstances which make it productive of higher enjoyment. It is then that every thing has the charm of novelty ; that curiosity and fancy are awake; and that the heart swells with Ihc

anticipations of future eminence and utility. Even in those lower branches of instruction which we call mere accomplishments, there is something always pleasing to the young in their acquisition. They seem to become every well-educated person, — they adorn, if they do not dignify humanity ; and, what is far more, while they give an elegant employment to the hours of leisure and relaxation, they afford a means of contributing to the purity and innocence of domestick life. But in the acquisition of knowledge of a higher kind, — in the hours when the young gradually begin the study of the laws of nature, and of the faculties of the human mind, or of the magnificent revelations of the Gospel, — there is a pleasure of a sublimer nature. The cloud which, in their infant years, seemed to cover nature from their view, begins gradually to resolve. Tiie world in which they are placed, opens with all its wonders upon their eye; their powers of attention and observation

112 O THE RELIGIOUS A D seem to expand with tlie scene before them ; and, while they see, for the first time, the immensity of the universe of God, and mark tlie majestick simplicity of those laws by which its operations are conducted, they feel as if they were awakened to a higher species of being, and admitted into nearer intercourse with the Author of ature. It is this period, of all others, accordingly, that most determines our hopes or fears of the future fate of the young. To feel no joy in such pursuits ; — to listen carelessly to the voice which brings such magnificent instruction ;^to see the veil raised which conceals the counsels of the Deity, and to shew no emotion at the discovery, are symptoms of a weak and torpid spirit, — of a mind unworthy of

the advantages it possesses, and which is fitted only for the humility of sensual and ignoble pleasure. Of those, on the contrary, who distinguish themselves by the love of knowledge, — who follow with ardour the career that is opened to thein, we are apt to form the most honourable presages. It is the character natural to youth, and which, therefore, promises well of their maturity. We foresee for them, at least, a life of pure and virtuous enjoyment, and we are willing to anticipate no coiiunon share of future usefulness and splendour. In the second place, the pursuits of knowledge lead not only to happiness but to honour. *• Length of days," in the words of the text, *^ is ^' in her right hand, and in her left are riches and

MORAL E DS OF K OWLEDGE. 113 *' lionoiir." It is lionoiiiaMe to excel even in the most trilling species of knowledge, in those which can amuse only the passing hour. It is more honourable to excel in those different branches of science which are connected with the liberal professions of life, and which tend so much to the dignity and well-being of humanity. It is the means of raising the most obscure to esteem and attention ; it opens to the just ambition of youth, some of the most distinguished and respected, situations in society ; and it places them there, with the consoling reflection, that it is to their own industry and. labour, in the providence of God, that they are alone indebted for them. But, to excel in the higher attainments of knowledge, — to be distinguished in those greater pursuits which have commanded the attention, and exhausted the abilities of the wise in every former age, — is perhaps, of all the distinctions of human understanding, the

most honourable and grateful. When we look back upon the great men who have gone before us in every path of glory, we feel our eye turn from the career of war and of ambition, and involuntarily rest upon those who have displayed the great truths of religion, who have investigated the laws of social welfare, or extended the sphere of human knowledge. These are honours, we feel, which have been gained without a crime, and which can be enjoyed without remorse. They are honours also which can never die, — which can shed luslre 15

114 Oi\ THE RELIGIOUS A D even upon the humblest head, — and to wliieh the young of every succeedhig age will look up, as their brightest incentives to the pursuit of virtuous fame. II. But whatever may be the attractions of wisdom, or the rewards which the Almighty hath given to its pursuit, it is still farther to be remembered, that it is at best only a means to an end ; that knowledge of every kind supposes some use to which it is to be applied ; and that, in the simple language of the gospel, it is a talent, (though a talent of the noblest kind,) for which the possessor is finally to account. I would to God, my brethren, that the history of science had rendered this observation unnecessary. Yet, you all know, that there are shades which darken the history of human improvement : that there have been, and even now, alas ! are, men who have employed genius and knowledge to the most fatal purposes ; who have employed them to corrupt the morals of private life ; to undermine the foundations of social order ; and, with a still more gigantick malignity,

have turned the powers which Heaven gave them asainst itself, and endeavoured to wrest from the family of God, that belief in his providence, and that hope in his mercy, which are necessary ingredients in our being, and which alone can animate the exertions, or console the woe of humanity. Far, God ! from us, and from the young of our people, be these fatal delusions ! Yet it is wise in

MORAL E DS OF K OWLEDGE. 115 you, my young friends, to confirm tlicse natural feelings by principle, and, in preparing yourselves to employ your knowledge, to consider the great ends, which, in this employment, both God and man demand of you. 1. The first end to which all wisdom or knowledge ought to be employed, is to illustrate the ivisdom or goodness of the Father of ature. Every science that is cultivated by men leads naturally to religious thought, from the study of the plant that grows beneath our feet, to that of the Host of Heaven above us, who perform their stated revolutions in majestick silence amid the expanse of infinity. When, in the youth of Moses, ^* the Lord appeared to him in Horeb," a voice was heard, saying, " draw nigh hither, and put off *^ thy shoes from oif thy feet, for the place where ^^ thou standest is holy ground." It is with such a reverential awe that every great or elevated mind will approach to the study of nature, and with such feelings of adoration and gratitude, that he will receive the illumination that gradually opens upon his soul. It is not the lifeless mass of matter, he will then feel, that he is examining, — it is the mighty machine of Eternal Wisdom : the workmanship of him, ^' in whom every thing

'^ lives, and moves, and has its being."' Under an aspect of this kind, it is impossible to pursue knowledge without mingling with it the most elevated sentiments of devotion ; — it is impossible to

116 O THE RELIGIOUS A D perceive the laws of nature without perceiving, at the same time, the presence and the Providence of the Lawgiver : — and thus it is that, in every age, the evidences of religion have advanced with the progress of true philosophy ; and that science, in erecting a monument to herself, has, at the same time, erected an altar to the Deity. The knowledge of nature, however, you know, my young brethren, is not exhausted. There are many great discoveries yet awaiting the labours of science ; and with them, there are also awaiting to humanity many additional proofs of the wisdom and benevolence " of Him that made us." To the hope of these great discoveries, few, indeed, can pretend : — yet let it ever be remembered, that he who can trace any one new fact, or can exemplify any one new instance of divine wisdom or benevolence in the system of nature, has not lived in vain ; that he has added to the sum of human knowledge ; and, what is far more, that he has added to the evidence of those greater truths, upon which the happiness of time and eternity depends. 2. The second great end to which all knowledge ought to be employed, is to the welfare of humanity. Every science is the foundation of some art, beneficial to men ; and while the study of it leads us to see the beneficence of the laws of nature, it calls upon us also to follow the great end of the Father of ature in their employment

MORAL E DS OF K OWLEDGE. ^^^ and application. I need not say, my brethren, what a field is tluis opened to the benevolence of knowledge : I need not tell you, that in every department of learning there is good to be done to mankind : I need not remind you, that the age in which we live has given us the noblest examples of this kind, and that science now finds its highest glory in improving the condition, or in allaying the miseries of humanity. But there is one thing of which it is proper ever to remind you, because the modesty of knowledge often leads us to forget it, — and that is, that the power of scientifick benevolence is far greater tlian that of ail others, to the welfare of society. The benevolence of the great, or the opulent, however eminent it may be, perishes with themselves. The benevolence even of sovereigns is limited to the narrow boundary of human life ; and not unfrequently is succeeded by different and discordant counsels. But the benevolence of knowledge is of a kind as extensive as the race of man, and as permanent as the existence of society. He, in whatever situation he may be, who, in the study of science, has discovered a new means of alleviating pain, or of remedying disease ; who has described a wiser method of preventing poverty, or of shielding misfortune ; who has suggested additional means of increasing or improving the beneficent productions of nature, has left a memorial of himself, which can never be forgotten ; which will commu-

118 O THE RELIGIOUS A D

nicate happiness to ages yet unborn ; and which, in the eniphatiek language of scripture, renders him a "fellow- worker" with God himself, in the improvement of his Creation. 3. The third great end of all knowledge is the improvement and exaltation of our own minds. It was the voice of the apostle, " What manner of " men ought ye to be, to whom the truths of the ^^ Gospel have come ?" It is the voice of nature also, " What manner of men ought ye to be, to ^^ whom the treasures of wisdom are opened ?'' Of all the^ spectacles, indeed, which life can offer us, there is none more painful, or unnatural, than that of the union of vice with knowledge. It counteracts the great designs of God in the distribution of wisdom ; and it assimilates men, not to the usual characters of human frailty, but to those dark and malignant spirits who fell from Heaven, and who excel in knowledge, only that they may employ it in malevolence. To the wise and virtuous man, on the contrary, — to him whose moral attainments have kept pace with his intellectual, and who has employed the great talent with which he is entrusted to the glory of God, and to the good of humanity, — are presented the sublimest prospects that mortality can know. " In my father's house," says our Saviour, " are ^^ many mansions ;" — mansions, we may dare to interpret, fitted to the different powers that life has acquired, and to the uses to which they have been

MORAL E DS OF K OWLEDGE. 119 jipplied. Of that great scene, indeed, Avhieh awaits all, whether ignorant or wise, it becomes us to think with reverential awe. Yet we know, "that it will then be well with tlie good, though

" it will not be well with the wicked ;" and we are led, by an instinctive anticipation, to suppose that they who here have excelled in wisdom and benevolence, will be rewarded with higher objects, upon which they may be employed, and admitted into uearer prospects of the government of Eternal Wisdom. "In his light they shall see light." ^' They shall see Him, not as through a glass, dark^' ly ; but as he is. They shall know, even as " they themselves are known." Such, my young brethren, are the great ends to which all wisdom p.n.l knowledge ought to be employed ; and such, also, the rewards, both in time and eternity, Vvlsich the Author of Wisdom hath bestowed upon the faithful of his people. It is upon this dignified and animating scene that you are now entering : — it is to these rewards that by patience and industry you may advance. I can add nothing to the magnificence of these prospects : yet there is one additional reflection which I would wish, at this time, to recall to your remembrance. In the scene of early life which you have left, you have all, probably, left some companions of your youthful years, who cannot follow you here : some to whom, with all their talents, poverty forbids the hope of further instruction, and who must

120 O THE RELIGIOUS E DS, &c. be doomed to pass their lives in ignorance and obscurity. Is there here, then, no call upon you to justify the fortunate superiority which you possess? And, if the Providence of the Almighty hath so early distinguished you, is there no claim which He, too, has upon your labour and your industry? In looking back upon this early scene,

there are, perhaps, other more interesting images that will return to your remembrance. There are friends you will see, who now anxiously wait your course ; — there are relations w^ho are eager to anticipate your honour and success ; — there are parents, perhaps, who await your hands to crown their grey hairs with a crown of joy. I will not go farther. May these, and every other remembrance befitting the generosity of youth, be present with you in every hour, to animate and invigorate the resolutions of your minds ! — May the blessing of Him who called the young unto Him, and blessed them, descend upon all your heads. And may you now so weigh the importance of the great journey upon which you are entering, that it may terminate "in honour, and glory, and immor"tality!"

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