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sometimes used in a bad sense; and from the whole tenor of the Apostle's discourse, it is evident that he uses it in this sense, and intends only to censure low buffoonery, obscenity, or what we call double meanings.
To this exposition, the opinions of many learned and pious men might be added, and even the concessions of many of the adversaries of the Stage, who say, that they do not consider all wit and ridicule to be unlawful, but merely when it degenerates into profaneness, indecency, and scurrility. f
In the same manner we must reconcile those different passages of Scripture, which seem to condemn all mirth and laughter, and to enforce seriousness : “ Woe unto you that laugh now, for ye
shall mourn." (Luke vi. 25.) " I said of laughter, it is mad, and of mirth, what doeth it.” (Eccles. ii. 2.) When we consider these, as opposed to the passages which seem to sanction mirth, they can be understood as censuring only that which is licentious, profane, or unseasonable. The general tenor of the Christian's character, should be seriousness tempered by cheerfulness; - seriousness is his occupation,
See Dr. Hey, p. 456. Parkhurst's Lexicon, and Doddridge's Expositor.
+ See Henry's Bible, vol. vi. p. 560. Witherspoon, p. 40.
harmless mirth is the relaxation from it, to
3. We may proceed therefore, to inquire, in the next place, what are the uses of wit.
It hath sometimes been considered as one of the uses of wit, that is, of that species of it, called ridicule, that it is a test of truth, a position which requires some investigation.
The means by which we come to the knowledge of truth, are Divine Revelation, Reason, the testimony of our Senses, and Historical Evidence.
That a Revelation comes really from God,
we are to ascertain by the use of reason; but when we are once convinced of that point, whatever we find to come from God, is to be received by us, whether it be above our reason, how contrary soever it may be to the opinions of the world, and notwithstanding all the ridicule which scoffers may throw out against it: “ scorner seeketh wisdom, and findeth it not; but knowledge is easy unto him that understandeth." (Prov. xiv, 6.) And we are told, “ that, in
, the last days, scoffers shall come, walking after their own lusts, and saying, Where is the promise of his coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation.-Ye, therefore, beloved, seeing ye know these things before, beware lest ye also, being led away with the error of the wicked, fall from your own stedfast,
and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ : To him be glory both now and for ever. Amen." 2 Pet. iii. 3, 4. 17, 18.)
With respect to that which we learn by reason, by comparing, connecting and deduction, and by an appeal to judgment, this slow operation can never be affected by the slight and quicker movements of ridicule, but is itself to be the test by which ridicule is to be tried.
That which we learn by the senses, that which we have felt, seen or heard, can still less be affected by it; all the ridicule in the world cannot laugh a man out of the persuasion, that hot iron will burn, that a house stands in the place in which he sees it, or that the music exists which he hears.
In Historical Evidence, plain facts, supported by plain reasons, are sufficient for our satisfaction.
In moral conduct, common and indifferent actions are to be regulated by the customs of the country in which we live, political by the laws of our society, and moral and relative duties by the laws of God.
It seems then, that wit in general, and particularly that species of it called ridicule, is merely an ornament, or pleasant mode of speech, a sort of seasoning, * to quicken or awaken the appetite; and, when we are thus ercited, reason, as in every thing else, is to determine for us how far we may indulge, how far what is objected to us, is conformable to truth; and there we must Jeave it. Thus, in the appetites of hunger and thirst, they serve to awaken, to rouse us to exertion, and to bring us to our nourishment
* Note A.
for the conservation of the body; but when they have discharged that office, reason must take her turn to rule, and guard against excess, lest that, which was intended for our good, should prove pernicious, lest“ our table be made a snare to take ourselves withal, and the things that should be for our wealth, be unto us - an occasion of falling.” (Psalm lxix. 23.) We have before seen, that wit and judgment, or reason, are two opposite qualities, and are seldom, therefore, blended together, in their due proportions, in the same person.
Of this consideration we should never lose sight; and persons of wit should learn to improve their judgment, and persons of judgment might find it useful in some measure to cultivate wit.
The real uses, then, to which it may be applied, seem to be in assisting truth, by exciting attention, in a striking and lively manner, to the follies of mankind; " by preventing pedantry, and that affectation of mystery and pomp, which has so much impeded the progress of useful science: it can make 'highsounding terms lose all their virtue, and set the practical knowledge of the common people on a rank equally high with the fine-spun theories of fanciful Philosophers. It is too great veneration for notions and persons, which