Page images
PDF
EPUB

long believed ; others so fond of novelty, that nothing prevails upon their assent so much as new thoughts and new notions. Again, there are some who set a high esteem upon every thing that is foreign and farfetched; therefore China pictures are admired, how aukward so ever : Others value things the more for being of our own native growth, invention or manufacture, and these as much despise foreign things.

Some men of letters and theology will not believe â : proposition even concerning a sublime subject, till every thing mysterious, deep and difficult is cut off from it, though the scripture afferts it ever so plainly ; others are so fond of a mystery and things incomprehensible, that they would scarce believe the doctrine of the Trinity, if it could be explained; they incline to that foolish rant of one of the ancients, credo quai impossibile cft ; I believe it because it is impoffible.

To cure these mistakes remember that neither antique nor novel, foreign nor native, mysterious nor plain, are certain characters either of truth or falsehood.

I might mention various other humours of men that excite in them various prejudices, and lead them into : rash and mistaken judginents : but these are sufficient for a specimen..

II. There are several other weaknesses which belong : to human nature, whereby we are led into mistakes, and indeed are rendered almost incapable of passing a solid judgment in matters of great depth and difficulty. Some have a native obscurity of perception, (or Thall I call it a want of natural fagacity ?) 'whereby they are hindered from attaining clear and distinct ideas. Their thoughts always seem to have something confused and cloudy in them, and therefore they judge in the dark, Some have a defect in memory, and then they are not capable of comparing their prefent ideas with a great variety of others, in order to secure themselves from inconsistency in judgment. Others may have a niemoTy large enough, yet they are subject to the same ertors from a narrowness of soul, and such a fixation and confinement of thought to a few objects, that they scarce ever take a survey of things wide enough to judge wilia

ly and well, and to secure themselves from all inconfiftencies.

Though these are natural defects and weaknesses, yet they may in some mealure be relieved by labour, diligence, and a due attention to proper rules.

But among all the causes of false judgment which are within ourselves, I ought by no means to leave out that universal and original spring of error, which we are informed of by the word of God, and that is, the fin and defection of our first parents, whereby all our best natural powers both of mind and body are impaired, and rendered very much inferior to what they were in a ftate of innocence. Our understanding is darkened, our memory contracted, our corrupt humours and passions are grown predominant, our reason enfeebled, and various disorders attend our constitution and animal nature, whereby the mind is strangely imposed upon in its judgment of things. Nor is there any perfect relief to be expected on earth. There is no hope of ever recovering from these maladies, but by a Gincere return to God in the ways of his own appointment, whereby we shall be kept safe from all dangerous and pernicious errors in inatters of religion ; and though imperfections and mistakes will hang about us in this present life, 29 the effects of our original apostacy from God, yet we hope for a full deliverance from them when we arrive at heaven.

[merged small][merged small][ocr errors]

T TERE it not for the springs of prejudice that

VV are lurking in ourselves, we should not be subject to so many mittakes from the influence of others : But since our nature is so susceptive of errors on all fides, it is fit we should have hints and notice given us, how for other persons may have power over us, and be

come the causes of our false judgments. This might all be caft into one heap, for they are all near a-kin, and mingle with each other, but for distinction sake let them be called the prejudices of education, of custom, of authority, and luch as arise from the manner of pro. posal.

1. Those with whom our education, is entrusted may lay the first foundation of many mistakes in our younger years. How many fooleries and errors are instilled into us by our nurses, our fellow-children, by servants, or unikilful teachers, which are not only maintained through the following part of our life, but sometimes have a very unhappy influence upon us! We are taught that there are goblings and bugbears in the dark; our young minds are crowded with the terrible ideas of ghosts appearing upon every occafion, or with the pleasanter tales of fairies dancing at midnight. We learn to prophely betimes, foretel futurities by good or evil omens, and to presage approaching death in a family by ravens and little worms, which we therefore call a death-watch. We are taught to know beforehand, for a twelve-month together, which days of the week will be fair or foul, which will be lucky or unlucky; nor is there any thing so filly, but may be impoled upon our understandings in that early part of life ; and these ridiculous stories abide with us too long, and too far influence the weaker part of mankind.

We chuse our particular sect and party in the civil, the religious and the learned life, by the influence of education. In the colleges of learning, some are for the nominals, and some for the realifts, in the science of metaphylics, because their tutors were devoted to these parties. The old philosophy and the new have gained thousands of partizans the same way: and every religion has its infant votaries, who are born, live and die in the fame faith, without examination of any article. The Turks are taught early to believe in Mahomet; the Jews in Moses; the Heathens worship a multitude of Gods under the force of their education. And it would be well if there were not millions of christians

who have little more to say for their religion, than that they were born and bred up in it. The greatest part of the Christian world can hardly give any reason why they believe the bible to be the word of God, but be cause they have always believed it, and they were taught so from their infancy. As Jews and Turks, and American Heathens believe the most monstrous and in. credible stories, because they have been trained up amongst them, as articles of faith; so the Papists believe their transubstantiation, and make no difficulty of affenting to impoflibilities, ince it is the current doctrine of their catechifms. By the same means the several sects and parties in Christianity believe all the strained interpretations of scripture by which they have been taught to support their own tenents: They find nothing diffi. cult in all the absurd gloties and far-fetched fenies that are sometimes put upon the words of the sacred writers, because their ears have been always accustomed to theie glofles; and therefore they set so smooth and easy upon their understandings, that they know.not how to admit the most natural and easy interpretation in opposition to them.

In the same manner we are nursed up in many filly and gross mistakes about domestic affairs, as well as in matters of political concernment. It is upon the same ground that children are trained up to be Whigs and Tories betimes ; and every one learns the diftinguithing terms of his own party, as the papists learn to say their prayers in Latin ;-without any meaning, reason, or devotion..

This sort of prejudice must be cured by calling all the principles of our young: years to the bar of mature reason, that we may judge of the things of nature and political affairs by juster rules of philosophy and obfervation: And even the matters of religion must be inquired into by reason and conscience, and when these have led us to believe scripture to be the word of God, then that becomes our sovereign guide, and reason and conscience must submit to receive its dictates.

II. The next prejudice which I shall mention is that which arises from the custom or fashion of those amongst whom we live. Suppose we have freed our.

selves from the younger prejudices of our education, yet we are in danger of having our minds turned aside from truth by the influence of a general custom.

Our opinion of meats and drinks, of garments and forms of salutation are influenced much more by cuftom, than by the eye, the ear or the taste. Custom prevails over fense itself, and therefore no wonder if it prevail over reason too. What is it but custom that renders many of the mixtures of food and fauces elegant in Britain, which would be aukward and nauseous in China, and indeed were nauseous to us when we first tafted them? What but custom could make thofe falutations polite in Muscovy, which are ridiculous in France and England ? We call all ourselves indeed the politer nations, but it is we who judge this of ourselves; and that fancied politeness is oftentime's more owing to custom than reason. Why are the forms of our present garments counted beautiful, and those fashions of our ancestors the matter of scoff and contempt, which in their day were all decent and genteel? It is custom that forms our opinion of dress, and reconciles us by degrees to those habits which at firit seemed very odd and monstrous. It must be granted there are some garments and habits which have a natural congruity or incongruity, modesty or immodesty, decency or indecency, gaudery or gravity ; though for the most part there is but little reason in these affairs : But what little there is of reason and natural decency, custom triumphs over it all. It is almost impossible to persuade a gay lady that any thing can be decent that is out of fashion : And it were well if fashion stretched its powers no further than the business of drapery and the fair sex.

The methods of our education are governed by cuAtom.' It is custom and not reason that fends every boy to learn the Roman poets, and begin a little acquaintance with Greek, before he is bound an apprentice to a soap-boiler or leather-seller. It is custom alone that teaches us Latin 'by the rules of a Latin grammar; a tedious and absurd method! and what is it but custom that has for past centuries, confined the brightelt genuiuses even of the high rank in the

« PreviousContinue »