« PreviousContinue »
PART II. ready to excite in us miltaken judgments concerning it. Let an erect cone be placed in a horizontal plane, at a great distance from the eye, and it appears a plain triangle; but we all judge that very cone to be nothing but a flat circle, if its base be obverted towards us. Sec a common round plate a little obliquely before our eyes afar off, and we shall think it an oval figure; but if the very edge of it be turned towards us, we shall take it for a strait line. So when we view the several folds of a changeable filk, we pronounce this part red, and that yellow, because of its different position to the light, though the Gilk laid smooth in one light appears all of one colour.
When we survey the miseries of mankind, and thirk of the forrows of millions, both on earth and in hell, the divine government has a terrible aspect, and we inmay be tempted to think hardly even of God liimself: but if we view the profusion of his bounty and grace amongst his creatures on earth, or the happy spirits in heaven, we fhall have so exalted an idea of his goodness as to forget his vengeance. Some men dwell entirely upon the promises of his gospel, and think him all piercy: others, under a melancholy frame, dwell upon This terrors and his threatnings, and are overwhelmed with the thought of his severity and vengeance, as though there were no mercy in him.
The true method of delivering ourselves from this prejudice is to view a thing on all fides, to compare all the various appearances of the same thing with one another, and let each of them have its full weight in the balance of ourjudgment, before we fully determine our opinion. It was by this means that the modern astronomers came to find out that the planet Saturn hath a flat broad circle round its globe, which is called its ring, by observing the different appearances as a narrow or a broader oval, or as it sometimes seems to be a strait line, in the different parts of its twenty-nine years revolution through the ecliptic. And if we take the same just and religious survey of the great and bleffed God in all the discoveries of his vengeance and his mercy, we shall at last conclude him to be both just and good.
V. The caufal association of many of our ideas, becomes the spring of another prejudice or rash judgment, to which we are sometimes exposed. If in our younger years we have taken medicines that have been nauseous, when any medicine whatsoever is afterward proposed to us under fickness, we immediately judge it naufeeus': our fancy has so closely joined these ideas to. gether, that we know not how to leparate theni : then the stomach feels the disgust, and perhaps refuses the only drug that can preserve life. So a child who has been let blood joins the ideas of pain and the surgeontogether, that he hates the light of the surgeon, because he thinks of his pain : or if he has drunk a bitter potion, he conceives a bitter idea of the cup which held it, and will drink nothing out of that cup.. .
! It is for the same realon that the bulk of the common people are fo fuperftitiously fond of the Píalms: translated by Hopkins and Sternhold, and think them sacred and divine, because they have been now for more than an hundred years bound up in the same covers with our bibles.
The best relief against this prejudice of affociation, is to conlider, whether there be any natural and neceffary. connection between those ideas which fancy, custom, or chance hath thus joined together : and if nature has
riot joined them, let our judgment correct the folly, of ! Our inagination, and separate those ideas again. .
UR ideas and words are fo linked together, that
while we judge of things according to words, we are led into several mistakes. These may be distributed under two general heads, (viz.) such as arise from sin gle words or phrases, or such as arise from words joindoed in speech, and composing a discourse.
1- I. The most eminent and remarkable errors of the first kind are thefe three. (1.) When our words are mulignificant, and have no ideas; as when the aiyítical divines talk of the prayer of filence, the supernatural and paflive night of the foul, the vacuity of powers, the fufpention of ail thoughts; or (2.). when our words are equivocal, and signify two or more ideas, as the words law, light, fleih, tpirit, righteousness, and many other terms in fcripture; or. (3.) when two or three words are synonymous, and liguify one idea, as regeneration and new.creation, in the new teftament; both which incan only a change of the heart from fin to holiness; er as the elector of Cologn and bithop of Cologn are two titles of the same man.
- Theie kinds of phrases are the occafions of various mistakes : but none so unhappy as those in theology: for both words without ideas, as well as synonymous and equivocal words have been used and abused by the humours, paflions, interests, or by the real ignorance and weakness of men, to beget terrible contefts, among christians.
But to relieve us under all those dangers, and to remove those sorts of prejudices which arise from single words or phrases, I must remit the reader to part I. chap. 4. where I have treated about words, and to those directions which I have given concerning the de. finition of names, part I. chap. 6. sect 3 .
Il. There is another fort of false judgments or mistakes which we are exposed to by words; and that is when they are joined in speech, and compose a dife course ; and here we are in danger two ways.
The one is when a man writes good sente, or speaks much to the purpose, but he has not a happy and engaging manner of expression. Perhaps he uses coarte and vulgar words, or old, obfolere, and unfashionable language, or terms and phrases that are foreign, latinized, fcholaftic, very uncommon, and hard to be under. itood: and this is ftill worfe, if his sentences are long and intricate, or the sound of them harsh and grating to the ear. All there indeed are defects in style, and lead foine nice and unthinking hearers or readers into an ill opinion of all that such a person speaks or writes.
Many an excellent discourse of our forefathers has had abundance of contempt'cast upon it by our modern pretenders to sense, for want of their distinguishing bea tween the language and the ideas.
On the other hand, when a man of eloquence fpeaks or writes upon any subject, we are too ready to run into his sentiments, being sweetly and insensibly drawn. by the smoothness of his harangue, and the pathetic power of his language.. Rhetoric will varnish every error so that it fhall appear in the dress of truth, and put such ornaments upon vice, as to make it look like virtue :: it is an art of wondrous and extensive influ-. ence :. it often conceals, obscures or overwhelms the truth, and places fornetimes a gross falshood in a most alluring light. The decency of action, the music of the voice, the harmony of the periods, the beauty of the: Itile, and all the engaging airs of the speaker, have often charmed the hearers into error, and persuaded them to approve whatsoever is proposed in so agreeable a manner. A large assembly Itands exposed at once to the power of these prejudices, and imbibes them all... So Cicero and Demofthenes made the Romans and the Athenians believe almost whatsoever they, pleased.. · The best defence against both these dangers, is to, learn the skill (as much as possible) of separating our thoughts and ideas from words and phrases, to judge of the things in their own natures, and in their natural or just relation to one another, abftracted from the use of language, and to maintain a steady and obstinate resoon lution, to hearken to nothing but truth, in whatsoever: style or dress.it appears.
Then we shall hear a sermon of pious and just sentiements with esteem and reverence, though the preacher hras but an unpolished style, and many defects in the manner of his delivery. Then we shall neglect and disregard all the flattering insinuations whereby the orator would make way for his own sentiments to take: poffesfion of our souls, if he has not solid and instruca: tive fense equal to his language. Oratory is a happy talent, when it is rightly employed to excite the passions to the practice of virtue and piety ; but to speak prom. perly, this art hath nothing to do in the search after truth.. SECT III. Prejudices arising from ourselves. . Y EITHER words nor things would so often lead us IV astray from truth, if we had not within ourselves such springs of error as there that follow.
1. Many errors are derived from our weakness of reaton, and incapacity to judge of things in our infant ftate. These are called the prejudices of infancy. We frame early mistakes about the common objects which furround us, and the common affairs of life : we fancy the nurse is our best friend, because children receive froin their nurses their food and other conveniences of life. We judge that books are very unpleasant things, because perhaps we have been driven to them by the icourge. We judge also that the fky touches the distant hills, because we cannot inform ourselves better in childhood. We believe the stars are not riten till the sun is set, because we never see them by day. But some of these errors, may seem to be derived from the next spring.
The way to cure the prejudices of infancy is to diftinguish, as far as we can, which are thote opinions which we framed in perfect childhood, to remember that at that time our reason was incapable of forming 2 right judgment, and to bring thefe propositions again to be examined at the bar of mature reaton.
II. Our senses give us many a false information of things, and tempt us to judge amiss. This is called the prejudice of sente, as when wesuppose the sun and moon to be flat bodies, and to be but a few inches broad, because they appear so to the eye. Sense inclines us to judge that air has no weight, because we do not feel it preis heavy upon us; and we judge also by our senses that cold and heat, sweet and four, red and blue, &c. are such real properties in the objects themselves, and exactly like those sensations which they excite in us..