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But we may extend our meditation a little further. The term truth, taken in the sense we have now given it, is one of those abstract terms, the precise meaning of which can never be ascertained, without determining the object to which it is attributed. There is a truth in every art and science. There is a truth in the art of rising in the world; a certain choice of means, a certain dexterous application of circumstances; a certain promptitude at seizing an opportunity. The courtier buys this truth, by his assiduity at court, by his continual attention to the looks, the features, the gestures, the will, the whimsies, of his prince.
The merchant buys this truth at the expence of his rest and his health; sometimes at the expence of his life, and often at that of his conscience and his salvation. In like manner, there is a truth in the sciences. A mathematician racks his invention, spends whole nights and days, suspends the most lawful pleasures, and the most natural inclinations to find the solution of a problem in a relation of figures, in a combination of numbers. These are not the truths which the wise man exhorts us to buy. They have their value, I own; but how seldom are they worth what they cost to obtain?
What then is Solomon's idea ? Doth he mean only the truths of religion, and the science of sal.vation? There, certainly, that which is truth by excellence, may be found ; nor can it be bought too dear. I do not think, however, that it would comprehend the precise meaning of the wise man to understand by truth here the science of salvation alone. His expression is vague, it comprehends all truths, it offers to the mind a general idea, the idea of universal truth. Buy the truth.
But what is this general idea of truth? What is universal truth ? Does Solomon mean, that we
should aim to obtain adequate ideas of all beings, that we should try to acquire the perfection of all arts, that we should comprehend the mysteries of all sciences? Who is equal to this undertaking?
It seems to me, my brethren, that when he exhorts us here to buy the truth, in this vague and indeterminate sense, he means to excite us to endeavor to acquire that happy disposition of mind, which makes us give to every question, that is proposed to us, the time and attention which it deserves ; to each proof its evidence; to each difficulty its weight ; to every good its real value. He means to inspire us with that accuracy of discernment, that equity of judgment, which would enable us to consider a demonstration as demonstrative, and a probability as probable only, what is worthy of a great application as worthy of a great application, what deserves only a moderate love as wortlıy of only a moderate love, and what deserves an infinite esteem as worthy of an infinite esteem; and so on. This, I think, my breliren, is the disposition of mind, with which Solomon means to inspire us. This, if I may be allowed to say so, is an aptness to universal truth. With this disposition, we may go as far in the attainment of particular truths, as the measure of the talents, which we have received of God, and the various circumstances, in which Providence has placed us, will allow. Especially, by this disposition, we shall be convinced of this principle, to which Solomon's grand design was to conduct us; that the science of salvation is that, which, of all others, deserves the greatest application of our minds and hearts; and with this disposition we shall make immense advances in the science of salvation.
But neither this universal truth, nor the disposition of mind, which conducts us to it, can be 2€
quired without labor and sacrifice. They must be bought. Buy the truth. And, to contine myself to some distinct ideas, universal truth, or the disposition of mind, which leads to it, requires the sacrifice of dissipation ; the sacrifice of indolence ; the sacrifice of precipitancy of judgment; the sacrifice of prejudice ; the sacrifice of obstinacy; the sacrifice of curiosity; the sacrifice of the passions. We comprise the matter in seven precepts.
1. Be attentive.
7. In order to edify your mind, subdue your beart.
This is the price, at which God hath put up this universal truth, and the disposition that leads to it. If you cannot resolve on making all these sacrifices, you may, perhaps, arrive at some particular truth; but you can never obtain universal truth. You may, perhaps, become famous mathematicians, or geometers, judicious critics, or celebrated officers; but you can never become real disciples of truth.
1. The sacrifice of dissipation is the first price we must pay for the truth. . Be attentive is the first precept, which we must obey, if we would know it. A modern philosopher has carried, I think, this precept too far. He pretends that the mind of man is united to two very different beings; first to the portion of matter, which constitutes his body, and next, to God, to eternal wisdom, to universal reason.
He pretends, that, as the emotions, which are excited in our brains, are the cause of our sentiments, effects of the union of the soul to the body; so attention is the occasional cause of our knowledge, and of our ideas, effects of the union of our mind to God, to eternal wisdom, to universal reason. The system of this phi. losopher on this subject hath been long since denominated a philosophical romance. It includes however, the necessity, and the advantage, of attention which is of the last importance. Dissipation is a turn of mind, which makes us divide our mind among various objects, at a time when we ought to fix it wholly on one. Attention is the opposite disposition, which collects, and fixes our ideas on one object. Two reflections will be sufficient to prove that truth is unattainable without the sacrifice of dissipation, and the application of a close attention.
The first reflection is taken from the nature of the human mind, which is finite, and contracted within a narrow sphere. We have only a portion of genius.
If, while we are examining a compound proposition, we do not proportion our attention to the extent of the proposition, we shall see it only in part, and we shall fall into error. The most absurd propositions have some motives of credibility. If we consider only two motives of credibility in a subject which hath two degrees of probability, and if we consider three degrees of probability in a subject, which hath only four, this last will appear more credible to us than the first.
The second reflection is taken from experience. Every one, who hath made the trial, knows, that things have appeared to him true or false, probable or certain, according to the dissipation which divided, or the attention which fixed, his mind in the examination. Whence is it, that on certain days of retirement, recollection, and meditation,
piety seems to be the only object worthy of our attachment, and with a mind fully convinced, we say, My portion, O Lord, is to keep thy words? Psal. cxix. 57. Whence is it, that, in hearing a sermon, in which the address of the preacher forceth our attention, in a manner, in spite of ourselves, we exclaim, as Israel of old did, All that the Lord hath spoken, we will do ? Exod. xix. 8. Whence is it, that on a death-bed, we freely acknowledge the solidity of the instructions that have been given us on the emptiness of worldly possessions, and readily join our voices to all those that cry, Vanity of vanities, all is vanity, and vexation of spirit? Eccles. i. 2. Whence is it, on the contrary, that in the gaiety of youth, and in the vigor of health, the same objects appear to us substantial and solid, which seem void and vexatious when we come to die? How comes it to pass, that a commerce with the world subverts al the systems of piety which we form in our closets? How is it, that demonstrations expire when sermons end, and that all we have felt in the church ceaseth to affect us when we go out of the gate ? Is there, then, nothing sure in the nature of beings? Is truth nothing but an exterior denomination, as the schools term it, nothing but a creature of reason, a manner of conceiving? Doth our mind change its nature, as circumstances change the appearance of things? Doth that which was true in our closets, in our churches, in a calm of our passions, become false when the passions are excited, when the church doors are shut, and the world appears ? God forbid ! It is because, in the first circumstances, we are all taken up with studying the truth ; whereas health, the world, the passions, disperse, (so to speak,) our attention, and, by dissipating, weaken it.