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Mr. Bakewell, who resided near him in Northumberland, has preserved a few notices of his habits at that time.
"When I was employed in the garden," says Mr. Bakewell, "the Doctor would give me a little assistance, ask me for instruction, and say he would be 'my under-gardener.' As we were one day thus employed, I said, 'Doctor, the Bible would appear to be the most contradictory book in the world, from the contrariety of the opinions that are drawn from it!' — ' True,' he said, 'and yet it is a plain book; but if men will not use the faculty of reason in understanding it, as they do when reading other books, it becomes no rule of faith to them, as they only form opinions as their fancy or their prejudice directs.' It was seldom he said much, unless I asked him a question. He observed one day, when we were talking about the strength of religious prejudices, 'In these things I was once a slave.'
I always found him up and writing, when I went to the house, which seldom exceeded six o'clock in the morning. He usually took a walk after breakfast, and employed the remainder of his time in writing till noon. In the after part of the day he would frequently come to me in the garden, or visit the people employed in building his house, and then return to his study. After tea, he and Mrs. Priestley frequently took a walk in the town, or elsewhere, till the evening, which was generally spent in reading, and concluded with family prayer."
Some of these details may appear trivial to some readers; but they help to fill up the image of the man and to present more completely before us his real portrait. It is for this reason that they are introduced; and this explains also why so large a portion of this Memoir has been occupied by extracts from his own writings, and by his explanations of a particular portion of his history. I wished that readers should see him and hear him as far as possible for themselves, and make up their judgment from a personal acquaintance. It is but little that we learn of a man's real character by perusing the eulogy of a friend, or the censures of an enemy, or even the delineation of an impartial witness. We know him only from our own observation. It is the object of these pages to present the subject of them to the observation of men. Here he may be fairly seen. No man is more exactly discerned in his writings than Dr. Priestley. As one of his respectful and admiring opponents, Toplady, said of him, "He is like a piece of crystal, which one can take up in his hand and look through." His works show him as he is, without disguise. And as our object is not to eulogize indiscriminately an imperfect man any more than to join an indiscriminate outcry against him; but simply to do an act of common justice by putting in a fair light the virtues of his extraordinary life; we are satisfied that the method here pursued is the most faithful, as it certainly must be the most interesting.
Romans, xiv. 7. For none of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself.
It is the excellence of our rational nature, that by it we are capable of living to some known end, and of governing our lives and conduct by some rule; whereas brute creatures necessarily live and act at random, just as the present appetite influences them. Let us, then, my brethren, make the most of this our prerogative, by proposing to ourselves the noblest end of human life, and engaging in such a course of actions as will reflect the greatest honor upon our nature, and be productive of the most solid and lasting happiness, both in the performance and the review of them.
Agreeably to this, let the principal use we make of our understanding be, to discover what the great end of life is; and then let us use the resolution and fortitude that is either natural to us, or acquired by us, in steadily conforming ourselves to it.
But, as the regular investigation of the rule of life from the light of nature only, may be tedious, and perhaps at last unsatisfactory; let us, without waiting for the result of such an inquiry upon the principles of reason, take a more clear and sure guide, the Holy Scriptures, in so important a subject, and see afterwards whether reason and experience will not give their sanction to that decision.
The great end of human life is negatively expressed by the apostle Paul in my text, "None of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself;" and if we attend to the connexion of these words, we shall find what, in the apostle's idea, is the true end to which men ought to live.
The apostle is here treating of a controversy which had arisen in the Christian church, about the lawfulness of eating meat sacrificed to idols, and keeping holy certain days, together with some other ceremonious observances, and exhorting both parties to do nothing that might give offence, or be a snare to the other, lest, by their means, any one should perish for whom Christ died.
As the best foundation for mutual tenderness and charity, he reminds them that both parties acted, with regard to all ritual observances, as they imagined was the will of Christ. "He that observeth a day, observeth it to the Lord; and he that observeth not a day, to the Lord he observeth it not." And after giving his sanction in the fullest manner to this maxim, and deciding, with respect to this particular case, that all Christians ought to act according to the will of Christ, and consult the good and the peace of their fellowChristians; he declares in general, that "no man liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself; but whether we live, we live unto the Lord, or whether we die, we die unto the Lord;" that is, in all our actions, our views should not be directed to ourselves, but to the interest of our holy religion.
And as the Christian religion has for its object the happiness of mankind, (since Christ came to bless us in turning us away from our iniquities,) it is the same thing as if he had said, The great scope of all our conduct should be the real welfare of all to whom our influence can extend.
We should, therefore, my brethren, according to this apostolical maxim, by no means confine our regards to ourselves, and have our own pleasure, profit, or advantage in view in every thing we undertake; but look out of, and beyond ourselves, and take a generous concern in the happiness of all our brethren of mankind; make their sorrows our sorrows, their joys our joys, and their happiness our pursuit: and it is in this disinterested conduct, and in this only, that we shall find our own true happiness.
That this is the true rule of human life, will appear, whether we consider the course of nature without us, the situation of mankind in this world, or take a nearer view of the principles of human nature. And we shall likewise find that several considerations, drawn from the Holy Scriptures, will farther confirm and illustrate this maxim of human conduct, which was first suggested by them.
1. This disinterested conduct of man is most agreeable to the course of nature without us. There is no part of the creation but, if it be viewed attentively, will expose the selfishness and narrow-mindedness of men: for among all that infinite variety of things and creatures which present themselves to our view, not one of them appears to have been made merely for itself, but every thing bears a relation to something else. They can hardly be said to afford any matter for contemplation singly, and are most of all the objects of our admiration when considered as connected with other things. The primary uses of things are few, butthe secondary uses of every thing are almost infinite. Indeed, the secondary uses of things are so many that we are lost in the multiplicity of them; whereas we can give no answer, if we be asked what is the primary use of any thing, but this general one,