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ON INDEPENDENCE OF MIND.
PREACHED TO THE CANDIDATES FOR THE BACCALAUREATE
Joshua i. 6, 7.
Be strong, and of a good courage, for unto this people shalt thou
divide for an inheritance the land, which I sware unto their fathers, to give them. Only be thou strong, and very courageous, that thou mayest observe to do according to all the law, which Moses, my servant, commanded thee. Turn not from it to the right hand or to the left; that thou mayest prosper, whithersoever thou goest.
These words were addressed by God to Joshua, the great captain of Israel, who led that nation into the promised land. He was now immediately to enter upon this mighty undertaking; and was promised the most absolute success. “Every place,” said God to him, “that the sole of your foot shall tread upon, that have I given unto you, as I said unto Moses. There shall not be any man, that shall be able to stand before thee all the days of thy life. As I was with Moses, so will I be with thee. I will not fail thee, nor forsake thee."
To these promises, however, was inseparably annexed the condition expressed in the text; which immediately follows the last of them. “ This book of the law,” says God to him, in the eighth verse, “ shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do accord
ing to all, that is written therein. For then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success.”
The importance of fulfilling this condition is evident from the words, in which the injunction is conveyed. It is, also, forcibly impressed by numerous repetitions. It is thrice repeated, in the 31st chapter of Deuteronomy; in the 6th, 7th, and 23d, verses; where the duty was enjoined directly by Moses. It is also thrice repeated in the first of Joshua by God bimself; in the 6th, 7th, and 9th, verses. The import of the repetition needs no explanation.
The duty of Joshua was to obey all the law of God, as revealed to Moses. The strength and courage, which he was required to possess and exercise, were to be wholly employed in performing his duty; and to possess these attributes, and to exercise them practically, was a primary part of his duty. It may be thought, that Joshua needed the character formed by them in a peculiar degree, on account of the arduous nature of the enterprise which he was about to commence. That he needed it in a high degree, and that it was eminently demanded by this enterprise, cannot be questioned. No more can it be questioned, that it is indispensably necessary to every child of Adam, in order to the performance of his own duty. Every man, indeed, is not the Chief magistrate, nor the Military leader, of a great people. Every man is not summoned to the sufferings of a military life, nor to the dangers of battle. But every man, who is willing to do his duty, will be called to encounter much opposition, many difficulties, and wat he, at least, will apprehend to be dangers. For these he will need firmness and resolution as truly, as they were necessary to Joshua : and without the exercise of them his duty will not be done.
Firmness and resolution, united, constitute what is commonly called Independence of mind; a character, challenged, and boasted of by most men, but rarely possessed, and very little understood. Probably there is nothing more frequently mistaken by our race at large, or even by men of superior intelligence. Various false opinions concerning it I shall have occasion to expose in the progress of this discourse.
My design in choosing this subject, as the theme of discussion at the present time, is
1. To explain its Nature ;
2. To show its Importance;
4. To exhibit several Mutives to the assumption of it, especially in early life.
All these subjects I shall address directly to the Youths, for whom this discourse is particularly intended.
1. I shall explain the Nature of this attribute.
Various definitions may be given of mental Independence, and all of them be just. Of several which are obvious, any one may, perhaps, be selected without material disadvantage. I shall consider it as that state of mind, in which a man firmly resolves to do his duty, without any anrious regard to consequences. When his duty is involved in the reception of Truth, which is one of the two great divisions of our duty, the man, who is independent, will search for truth with a diligence and perseverance suited to its value; will weigh with candour whatever evidence he may obtain ; and will form his conclusions agreeably to that evidence, unbiassed by any private interest or any sinister view, and uninfluenced by the authority of others, their opinions, their wishes, their friendship, their enmity, the advantages which he may hope to gain by according with them, the disadvantages which he may expect to suffer by opposing them, their applause, or their obloquy. Truth he will consider as inestiinably valuable: and all these objects, so operative on the minds of most men, will, in comparison with it, be, to his eye, less than nothing, and ranity.
When Action becomes his duty, he will act as his Conscience dictates; with a determined opposition to all the objects which I have specified. Truth he will declare, however his own private interest may be affected by the declaration, and however others may be disposed to treat him. Virtue he will practice, in the face of opposing friends, an opposing party, or an opposing world. Like the intrepid Baxter, he will separate himself alike from the Royalists, and the Parliament; and will censure, or commend, both as censure or commendation may be merited by either. Like the still more intrepid Paul, he will boldly meet the frowns of the Pharisees, the formidable hostility of the Sanhedrim, and the bigotted violence of the whole Jewish nation, and will still possess the exalted character, disclosed in this memorable declara,
tion : “ The Holy Ghost witnesseth, that in every city bonds and afflictions abide me. But none of these things move me; neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I may finish my course with joy, and the ministry, which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the Gospel of the grace of God.”
But this character will be more distinctly apprehended from a comparison with its counterfeits. Among these are the following
First. There are some persons, who regard themselves as possessing independence of mind, because they differ in their opinions from others; particularly, when they reject such, as are generally received.
The general reception of any opinion, except where mankind have a complete capacity and opportunity to judge; and where at the same time they determine without, or against, their inclinations and prejudices; is certainly no proof, that it is just. Still less is it evidence, that it is untrue. In all cases, where mankind at large have the means of judging, and are under no violent prejudices, their agreement in any doctrine is a presumption in its favour. The agreement, also, of men of superior wisdom and worth, though furnishing no decisive evidence that they are right, is yet so much of an argument in favour of their doctrines, as to demand a serious examination of them, before we resolve to adopt such as are of a contrary nature. Yet there are persons in the world, particularly among the young, who, while they are ardently ambitious to sustain the characters of independent thinkers, feel, that they actually assume it by merely differing from others. Of this there can be no doubt, because they frequently declare it; and boast of it not a little, as being the proper exercise and decisive proof of free, independent thought. Those also, who barmonize in their opinions either with the public, or with persons of distinguished respectability, they often pronounce to be enslaved, priest-ridden, blinded by prejudice, and awed by authority. These silly men are so weak, as to know nothing of independence, but the name; and do not discern, that this envied attribute consists, not in rejecting the opinions of others, but in rejecting error; not in receiving opinions contrary to those of others, but in receiving those, which are supported by evidence.
Of this class have been a great proportion of Infidels. These men, in Great Britain, styled themselves at a very early period Free Thinkers: while they regarded Christians as being perfectly enslaved by authority, fear, and prejudice. Accordingly they gloried not a little in this character; and considered themselves as the only men, whose minds were unshackled.
Christians they pronounced credulous; because they believed the Scriptures to be the word of God; and themselves free from credulity, because they did not thus believe. They did not perceive, what was yet very obvious, that the whole difference between them and Christians, in this respect, was, that Christians believed the Scriptures to be the Word of God, and they believed them not to be the word of God. The Christians believed a positive, and they, a negative, proposition. The credulity, therefore, was chargeable to those, whoever they were, who believed with the least evidence; whether they were styled believers, or unbelievers.
Secondly. There are others, who claim this character, from the mere indulgence of Passion.
The passion, which operates in this case, may be pride, vanity, ambition, enthusiasm, anger, and perhaps several others. There is no independence of mind, founded in passion. The indulgence of it may, indeed, make us feel for the season superior to all other persons, and to all received opinions. But the existence of passion, in most cases, is in a comparative sense momentary; and, when it ceases, the mind sinks as much below, as it had before risen above, the usual level. It has, in this case, no support, but the state of feeling. It possesses no arguments, no conviction of its own rectitude, no smiles of conscience, no approbation of God, and no sincere approbation of its fellow-men. Haman, whose soul was the seat of passion, the very moment, when he was commanded to honour Mordecai, sunk, with all his pride, into the dust. Circumstances furnished all his apparent energy of character; and, when they ceased to exist, it vanished. How different was the conduct of the meek and humble Shadrach, Mcshach, and Abednego. At the very mouth of the fiery furnace, they said, “ O Nebuchadnezzar, we are not careful to answer thee in this matter. If it be so, our God, whom we serve, is able to deliver us from the burning, fiery furnace; and he will de