« PreviousContinue »
« best of critics has left us. The sum of all this • discourse is, that our clergy have no farther to
look for an example of the perfection they may • arrive at, than to St. Paul's harangues; that when
he, under the want of several advantages of na• ture (as he himself tells us) was heard, admired, • and made a standard to fucceeding ages by the • best judge of a different persuasion in religion : • I say, our clergy may learn, that however initruc
tive their fermons are, they are capable of receiv
ing a great addition, which St. Paul has given • them a noble example of, and the Christian Reli• gion has furnished them with certain means of • attaining to.
NO 610. FRIDAY, DECEMBER 17.
'o inay's av osépes Tyira sv.
SOCRATES apud XEN. The fewer our wants, the nearer we resemble
the gods. IT T was the common boast of the heathen philofo
phers, that by the efficacy of their several doctrines, they made human nature resemble the divine. How much mistaken foever they might be, in the several means they propofed for this end, it must be owned that the defign was great and glorious. The finest works of invention and imagination are of very little weight, when put in the balance with what refines and exalts the rational mind. Longinus excuses Homer very handsomely, when he says the poet made his gods like men, that he might make his men appear like the gods : But it must be allowed, that several of the ancient philosophers acted, as Cicero wishes Homer had done
; they endeavoured rather to make men like gods, than gods like men.
According to this general maxim in philosophy, some of them have endeavoured to place men in such a state of pleasure, or indolence at least, as they vainly imagined the happiness of the Supreme Being to consist in. On the other hand, the most virtuous fect of philosophers have created a chime. rical wife man, whom they made exempt from paffion and pain, and thought it enough to pronounce him all-fufficient.
This last character, when divested of the glare of human philosophy that furrounds it, fignifies no more, than that a good and a wise man should fo arm himself with patience, as not to yield tamely to the violence of passion and pain; that he should learn fo to suppress and contract his defires as to have few wants; and that he should cherish fo
many virtues in his soul, as to have a perpetual fource of pleasure in himself.
The Christian religion requires, that, after having framed the best idea we are able of the Divine Nature, it should be our next care to conform ourfelves to it, as far as our imperfections will permit, I might mention several passages in the facred writings on this head, to which I might add many maxims and wise sayings of moral authors among the Greeks and Romans.
I shall only instance a remarkable paffage to this purpose out of Julian's Cæfars. That emperor having represented all the Roman Emperors, with Alexander the Great, as paffing in review before the gods, and striving for the fuperiority, lets them all drop, excepting Alexander, Julius Cæjar, Augustus Gæsar, Trajan, Marcus Aurelius, and Constantine. Each of these great heroes of antiquity lays in his claim for the upper place; and, in order to it, sets forth his actions after the most advantageous man
But the gods, instead of being dazzled with the luftre of their actions, enquire, by Mercury, into the proper motive and governing principle
that influenced them, throughout the whole feries of their lives and exploits. Alexander tells them, that his aim was to conquer : Julius Cæfar, that his was to gain the highest poft in his country; Auguftus, to govern well; Trajan, that his was the fame as that of Alexander, namely, to conquer. The question at length was put to Marcus Aurelius, who replied, with great modefty, that it had always been his care to imitate the gods. This conduct seems to have gained him the most votes, and best place in the whole assembly. Marcus Aurelius, being afterimitating the gods, he endeavoured to imitate them in the use of his understanding, and of all other faculties; and, in particular, that it was always his study to have as few wants as possible in himself, and to do all the good he could to others.
Among the many methods by which revealed religion has advanced morality, this is one, that it has given us a more just and perfect idea of that Being whom every reasonable creature ought to imitate. The young man, in a heathen comedy, might justify his lewdness by the example of Jupiter; as, indeed, there was scarce any crime that might not be countenanced by those notions of the Deity which prevailed among the common people in the heathen world. Revealed religion fets forth a proper object for imitation, in that Being who is the pattern, as well as the source, of all spiritual perfection.
While we remain in this life, we are subject to innumerable temptations, which, if listened to, will make us deviate from reason and goodness, the only things wherein we can imitate the Supreme Being. In the next life we meet with nothing to excite our inclinations that doth not deserve them. I shall therefore dismiss my reader with this ma. xim, viz. Our bappiness in this world proceeds from
the suppression of our de fires, but in the next world from the gratification of them.
No 635. MONDAY, DECEMBER 20.
Sentio te fedem hominum ac domum contemplari ; quae s tibi parva (ut eft) ita videtur, haec caeleftia semper spelato; illa humana contemnito.
CICERO SOMN. SCIP. I perceive you contemplate the feat and habitation of nien; which if it appears as little to you as it really is, fix your eyes perpetually upon heavenly objects, and despise earthly. THE HE following effay comes from the ingenious
author of the letter upon Novelty, printed in a late Spectator : The notions are drawn from the Platonic way of thinking; but as they contribute to raise the mind, and may inspire noble sentiments of our own future grandeur and happiness, I think it well deserves to be presented to the public. If
mind, this mind could have no immediate regard to himself in producing it. He needed not to make trial of his omnipotence, to be informed what effects were within its reach : The world as existing in his eternal idea was then as beautiful as now it is drawn forth into being; and, in the immenfe abyss of his effence, are contained far brighter scenes than will be ever set forth to view ; it being impoffible that the great author of nature should bound his own power by giving existence to a fyftem of creatures so perfect that he cannot improve upon it by any other exertions of his almighty will. Between finite and infinite there is an unmeasured interval, not to be filled up in endless ages; for
which reason the most excellent of all God's works must be equally short of what bis power is able to produce as the most imperfect, and may be exceeded with the same ease.
This thought hath made some imagine: (what it must be confeffed is not impoflible) that the unfathomed space is ever teeming with new births, the younger still inheriting a greater perfection than the elder. But as this doth not fall within my prefent view, I shall content myself with taking notice, that the confideration now mentioned proves undeniably, that the ideal worlds in the divine understanding yield a prospect incomparably more ample, various, and delightful, than any created world can do: And that therefore, as it is not to be supposed that God should make a world merely of inanimate matter, however diversified; or inhabited only by creatures of no higher an order than brutes ; fo the end for which he designed his reafonable offspring is the contemplation of his works, the enjoyment of hiinself, and in both to be happy; having, to this purpose, endowed them with correfpondent faculties and desires. He can have no greater pleasure from a bare review of his works, than from the survey of his own ideas; but we may be affured, that he is well pleased in the satisfaction derived to beings capable of it, and for whose entertainment he hath erected this immense theatre. Is not this more than an intimation of our immortality ? Man who, when considered as on his probation for a happy existence hereafter, is the most remarkakle instance of Divine wisdom, if we cut himn off from all relation to eternity, is the most wonderful and unaccountable composition in the whole creation. He hath capacities to lodge a much greater variety of knowledge than he will he ever master of, and an unsatisfied curiosity to tread the secret paths of nature and providence : But, with this, his organs, in their present structure, are rather fitted to serve the neceflities of a