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THE BLESSINGS OF REVELATION INTENDED FOR
DELIVERED 1st MAY, 1814, FOR THE BENEFIT OF THE BIBLE SOCIETY OF PHILADELPHIA.
ISAIAH, xxix. 18, 19.
In that day shall the deaf hear the words of the book, and the eyes of the blind shall see out of obscurity, and out of darkness. The meek also shall increase their joy in the Lord, and the poor among men shall rejoice in the Holy One of Israel.
Ir it be admitted as an indubitable proposition, that knowledge and virtue are essential to the true dignity and happiness of man, we cannot but be deeply affected with the condition of by far the greater proportion of our species. We are told, and there is sufficient reason to believe, that man was originally created in the image of God-furnished with every requisite, both mental and corporeal, for becoming and continuing wise, holy, and happy. But where, alas! are we now to look for the traits of an original so excellent? In some parts of the habitable globe we behold our nature wearing a form so abject as to be barely distinguishable from that of the more
sagacious kinds of brutes-in others, wild, ferocious, uncivilised, and delighting in deeds of horror, atrocity, and blood. Even among nations considerably removed from absolute barbarism, we find the social bond much relaxed, and, in some of its most important points of obligation, altogether broken and disregarded; while that which wears the semblance of religion, is either disfigured by the most deplorable ignorance and superstition-an incongruous mass of ceremonial absurdities, or a vile prostration before stocks and stones, carved or hewn into monstrous shapes, and the objects of slavish dread in proportion to their deformity, and the inhumanity of the rites with which their worship is celebrated. That such a state of moral disorder should have been the appointment of an all-powerful Creator, an all-wise Governor, and an all-benevolent Parent, we cannot allow ourselves to believe. To account for his permission of it, presents difficulties little less than insuperable; nor, if we could solve them ever so satisfactorily, would the discovery be of any real utility. The melancholy truth is, that it does exist; and if we could persuade ourselves that the decree is gone forth, either that thus it shall always continue, or that every successive generation of mankind shall sink deeper and deeper into depravity and wretchedness, I know not any thing that could fill the generous mind with more poignant affliction, or more effectually paralise every benevolent effort for their recovery.
But, blessed be God, there is no room to entertain such gloomy, such desponding apprehensions-there is, on the contrary, ample reason for believing that the divine counsels contemplate the gradual amelioration of the moral condition and character of many
which shall be carried forward till the image of God be renewed in his rational offspring, and shine forth in all its pristine beauty and glory. This position I shall endeavour to establish by considerations drawn from the constitution of the human nature itself, and more especially from the import and tendency of those extraordinary revelations with which it hath pleased the Supreme Being to favour our fallen race. If then mankind be recoverable from a state of ignorance, error, and vice, it must be by means of instruction. But in order to profit by instruction there must exist a previous and an inherent capability of receiving it. To scatter seed of the most excellent quality would be an useless labour, if the ground did not contain the principle of fertility; neither can it be disputed, that the human mind, generally speaking, is as susceptible of improvement by instruction as the earth by cultivation-an idea so familiar, that the latter term is, in both cases, of common application. The wilderness, under the plastic hand of industry, may be made to blossom as the rose; and thè untutored savage, when brought within the reach of opportunities for information, has become so unlike his former self, as to be almost a different being. Here then, we recognise the ground upon which the great fabric of universal knowledge, virtue, and happiness is, if at all, to be erected the improvability, however inferior at present to what it may have originally been, of the human character; for which there could be no room to hope, if it were totally destituté of every good principle, and were entirely and incessantly bent to all evil.
It hath also pleased the wise Author of our frame, to qualify and incline us to become instructors of
each other. He has qualified us for it by giving us different turns of genius, and placing before us different objects of ardent pursuit; he has inclined us to it by inspiring us with the desire of imparting to others what our own industry or application have enabled us to attain; so that it is difficult to determine whether the acquisition or the communication of new ideas affords the greater pleasure. The student who consumes the midnight oil-the philosopher who assiduously investigates the laws of nature-the navigator who braves the perils of the deep in search of hitherto undiscovered lands, and the traveller who explores regions untrodden by the foot of civilised man-all these, while they experience a high degree of self-gratification, feel something that irresistibly prompts them to communicate the result of their labours and researches; and while they add to the general stock of knowledge, are preparing the way for its further, its indefinite extension.
We may also plainly perceive the kind intentions of our common Parent, in the provision he has made for giving to this natural propensity its full and designed effect. One great purpose for which he has endued us with the faculty of speech, is, that the benefits of science, observation and experience might not be confined to their original possessor. For a long succession of ages, this was the only way in which they could be conveyed, and oral tradition alone was the limited and uncertain channel through which the wisdom of one generation descended to another; the consequence of which was much loss and much deterioration. By the art of writing some of these inconveniences were remedied; yet still, information was confined within very narrow bounds,
by reason of the time necessarily spent in making copies, and the small number at most that could be obtained, while a way was left open by which error might intrude through the carelessness, ignorance, or conceit of transcribers. But by the comparativeJy modern invention of printing, copies are multiplied with an ease, expedition and accuracy, of which, antecedently, no conception could have been formed. And when, in connexion with this, we take into view the effects of the discovery of the magnetic power as applied to navigation, we might almost adopt in its literal sense the figurative expression of the evangelist- that even the world itself shall not be able to contain the books that shall be written,"-it is at least morally impossible that such as are held in general and deserved esteem can ever be lost.
If the foregoing remarks be applicable to the communication and diffusion of knowledge in general, it would be useless to attempt to establish any distinction in these particulars with respect to religious knowledge. If there be not, in the nature of man, something congenial with that of religion—if it be not a soil in which the precious seed can take root and flourish, the labour of religious instruction might as well be bestowed upon the beasts of the field, or the fowls of the air. I must be permitted to dwell a little upon this point. Man is not more, perhaps not so much, distinguished from the lower orders of animals in any thing, as by his natural capacity for religion. It is the inspiration of the Almighty that hath thus made him wiser than them, and given him this characteristic mark of understanding. That God originally made such discoveries of himself to his rational offspring as were sufficient for their direction