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In this age of general inquiry, every kind of ignorance is deemed dishonourable. In almost every sort of knowledge there is a competition for superiority. Intellectual attainments are never to be undervalued. Learning is the best human thing. All knowledge is excellent as far as it goes, and as long as it lasts. But how short is the period before “ tongues shall cease, and knowledge shall vanish away!"
Shall we then esteem it dishonourable to be ignorant of any thing which relates to life and literature, to taste and science, and not feel ashamed to live in ignorance of our own hearts?
To have a flourishing estate and a mind in disorder; to keep exact accounts with a Stew
ard and no reckoning with our Maker; to have an accurate knowledge of loss or gain in our business, and to remain utterly ignorant whether our spiritual concerns are improving or declining; to be cautious in ascertaining at the end of every year how much we have increased or diminishsd our fortune, and to be careless whether we have incurred profit or loss in faith and holiness, is a wretched miscalculation of the comparative value of things. To bestow our attention on objects in an inverse proportion to their importance, is surely no proof that our learning has improved our judgment.
That deep thinker and acute reasoner, Dr. Barrow, has remarked that "it is a peculiar excellency of human nature, and which distinguishes man from the inferior creatures more than bare reason itself, that he can reflect upon all that is done within him, can discern the tendencies of his soul, and is acquainted with his own purposes.
This distinguishing faculty of self-inspection would not have been conferred on man, if it had not been intended that it should he in habitual operation. It is surely, as we before observed, as much a common law of prudence, to look well to our spiritual as to our worldly possessions. We have appetites to control,
imaginations to restrain, tempers to regulate, passions to subdue, and how can this internal work be effected, how can our thoughts be kept within due bounds, how can a proper bias be given to the affections, how can "the little state of man" be preserved from continual insurrection, how can this restraining power be maintained, if this capacity of discerning, if this faculty of inspecting be not kept in regular exercise? Without constant discipline, imagination will become an outlaw, conscience an attainted rebel.
This inward eye, this power of introversion, is given us for a continual watch upon the soul. On an unremitted vigilance over its interior motions, those fruitful seeds of action, those prolific principles of vice and virtue, will depend both the formation and the growth of our moral and religious character. A superficial glance is not enough for a thing so deep, an unsteady view will not suffice for a thing so wavering, nor a casual look for a thing so deceitful as the human heart. A partial inspection on any one side, will not be enough for an object which must be observed under a variety of aspects, because it is always shifting its position, always changing its appearances.
We should examine not only our conduct but our opinions; not only our faults but our
prejudices, not only our propensities but our judgments. Our actions themselves will be obvious enough; it is our intentions which require the scrutiny. These we should follow up to their remotest springs, scrutinize to their deepest recesses, trace through their most perplexing windings. And lest we should, in our pursuit, wander in uncertainty and blindness, let us make use of that guiding clue which the Almighty has furnished by his word, and by his spirit, for conducting us through the intricacies of this labyrinth. "What I know not teach Thou me," should be our constant petition in all our researches.
Did we turn our thoughts inward, it would abate much of the self-complacency with which we swallow the flattery of others. Flattery hurts not him who flatters not himself. If we examined our motives keenly, we should frequently, blush at the praises our actions receive. Let us then conscientiously enquire not only what we do, but whence and why we do it, from what motive and to what end.
Self-inspection is the only means to preserve us from self-conceit. We could not surely so very extravagantly value a being whom we ourselves should not only see, but feel to be so full of faults. Self-acquaintance will give us a far more deep and intimate knowledge of our