« PreviousContinue »
I was once master of. Besides, for I may now confess my age to thee, I have been eight and forty above these twelve years.
Since retirement into the country will make a vacancy in the club, I could wish you would fill up my place with my friend Tom Dapperwit. He has an infinite deal of fire, and knows the town. For my own part, as I have said before, I shall endeavour to live hereafter suitable to a man in my station, as a prudent head of a family, a good husband, a careful father, (when it shall so happen,) and as
6. Your most sincere friend,
And humble servant,
No. 531. SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 8.
Qui mare et terras variisque mundum
Temperat horis :
Nec viget quicquam simile aut secundum. Hor. SIMONIDES being asked by Dionysius the tyrant what God
was, desired a day's time to consider of it before he made his reply. When the day was expired, he desired two days; and afterwards, instead of returning his answer, demanded still double the time to consider of it. This great poet and philosopher, the more he contemplated the nature of the Deity, found that he waded but the more out of his depth ; and that he lost himself in the thought, instead of finding an end of it.
If we consider the idea which wise men, by the light of reason, have framed of the Divine Being, it amounts to this : that he has in him all the perfection of a spiritual nature ; and, since we have no notion of any kind of spiritual perfection, but what we discover in our own souls, we join infinitude to each kind of these perfections, and what is a faculty in a human soul, becomes an attribute in God. We exist in place and time; the Divine Being fills the immensity of space with his
presence, and inhabits eternity. We are possessed of a little power and a little knowledge; the Divine Being is Almighty and Omniscient. In short, by adding infinity to any kind of perfection we enjoy, and by joining all these different kinds of perfections in one Being, we form our idea of the great Sovereign of Nature.
Though every one who thinks, must have made this observation, I shall produce Mr. Locke's authority to the same purpose, out of his Essay on Human Understanding. “If we examine the idea we have of the incomprehensible Supreme Being, we shall find that we come by it the same way; and that the complex ideas we have both of God and separate spirits, are made up of the simple ideas we receive from reflection: v. g. having, from what we experiment in in ourselves, got the ideas of existence and duration, of knowledge and power, of pleasure and happiness, and of several other qualities and powers, which it is better to have than to be without; when we would frame an idea the most suitable we can to the Supreme Being, we enlarge every one of these with our idea of infinity; and so putting them together, make our complex idea of God."
It is not impossible that there may be many kinds of spiritual perfection, besides those which are lodged in a human soul; but it is impossible that we should have ideas of any kinds of perfection, except those of which we have some small rays and short imperfect strokes in ourselves. It would be, therefore, a very high presumption to determine whether the Supreme Being has not many more attributes than those which enter into our conceptions of him. This is certain, that if there be any kind of spiritual perfection which is not marked out in a human soul, it belongs in its fulness to the Divine Nature.
Several eminent philosophers have imagined that the soul, in her separate state, may have new faculties springing up in her, which she is not capable of exerting during her present union with the body; and whether these faculties may not correspond with other attributes in the Divine Nature, and open
to us hereafter new matter of wonder and adoration, we are altogether ignorant. This, as I have said before, we ought to acquiesce in, that the Sovereign Being, the Great Author of Nature, has in him all possible perfection, as well in kind as in degree; to speak according to our methods of conceiving. I shall only add, under this head, that when we have raised our notion of this infinite Being as high as it is possible for the mind of man to go, it will
fall infinitely short of what he really is. “ There is no end of his greatness :" the most exalted creature he has made, is only capable of adoring it; none but himself can comprehend it.
The advice of the son of Sirach is very just and sublime in this light. * By his word all things consist. We may speak much, and yet come short; wherefore in sum, he is all. How shall we be able to magnify Him? for he is great above all his works. The Lord is terrible and very great; and marvellous in his power. When you glorify the Lord, exalt him as much as you can; for even yet will he far exceed. And when you exalt him, put forth all your strength, and be not weary; for you can never go far enough. Who hath seen him, that he might tell us ? and who can magnify him as he is ? there are yet hid greater things than these be, for we have seen but a few of his works."
I have here only considered the Supreme Being by the light of reason and philosophy. If we would see him in all the wonders of his mercy, we must have recourse to revelation, which represents him to us, not only as infinitely great and glorious, but as infinitely good and just in his dispensations towards men. But as this is a theory which falls under every one's consideration, though indeed it can never be sufficiently considered, I shall here only take notice of that habitual worship and veneration which we ought to pay to this Almighty Being. We should often refresh our minds with the thoughts of him, and annihilate ourselves before him, in the contemplation of our own worthlessness, and of his transcendent excellency and perfection. This would imprint in our minds such a constant and uninterrupted awe and veneration as that which I am here recommending, and which is in reality a kind of incessant prayer, and reasonable humiliation of the soul before him who made it.
This would effectually kill in us all the little seeds of pride, vanity, and self-conceit, which are apt to shoot up in the minds of such whose thoughts turn more on those comparative advantages which they enjoy over some of their felIow-creatures, than on that infinite distance which is placed between them and the supreme model of all perfection. It would likewise quicken our desires and endeavours of uniting ourselves to him by all the acts of religion and virtue.
Such an habitual homage to the Supreme Being would, in a particular manner, banish from among us that prevailing impiety of using his name on the most trivial occasions.
I find the following passage in an excellent sermon, preached at the funeral of a gentleman who was an honour to his country, and a more diligent as well as successful inquirer into the works of nature, than any other our nation has ever produced. “He had the profoundest veneration for the Great God of heaven and earth, that I have ever observed in any person.
The very name of God was never mentioned by him without a pause and a visible stop in his discourse; in which one that knew him particularly above twenty years has told me, that he was so exact, that he does not remember to have observed him once to fail in it."
Every one knows the veneration which was paid by the Jews to a name so great, wonderful, and holy. They would not let it enter even into their religious discourses. What can we then think of those who make use of so tremendous a name in the ordinary expressions of their anger, mirth, and most impertinent passions ? of those who admit it into the most familiar questions and assertions, ludicrous phrases, and works of humour ? not to mention those who violate it by solemn perjuries ? It would be an affront to reason,
to endeavour to set forth the horror and profaneness
of such a practice. The very mention of it exposes it sufficiently to those in whom the light of nature, not to say religion, is not utterly extinguished.
No. 535. THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 13.
Spem longam resecesMy four hundred and seventy-first speculation turned upon the subject of hope in general. I design this paper as a speculation upon that vain
and foolish hope, which is misemployed on temporal objects, and produces many sorrows and calamities in human life.
It is a precept several times inculcated by Horace, that we should not entertain a hope of anything in life, which lies at a great distance from us. The shortness and uncertainty of our time here makes such a kind of hope unreason.
able and absurd. The grave lies unseen between us and the object which we reach after: where one man lives to enjoy the good he has in view, ten thousand are cut off in the pursuit of it.
It happens likewise unluckily, that one hope no sooner dies in us, but another rises up in its stead. We are apt to fancy that we shall be happy and satisfied if we possess ourselves of such and such particular enjoyments; but either by reason of their emptiness, or the natural inquietude of the mind, we have no sooner gained one point but we extend our hopes to another. We still find new inviting scenes and landscapes lying behind those which at a distance terminated our view.
The natural consequences of such reflections are these that we should take care not to let our hopes run out into too great a length; that we should sufficiently weigh the objects of our hope, whether they be such as we may reasonably expect from them what we proposel in their fruition, and whether they are such as we are pretty sure of attaining, in case our life extend itself so far. If we hope for things which are at too great a distance from us, it is possible that we may be intercepted by death in our progress towards them. If we hope for things of which we have not thoroughly considered the value, our disappointment will be greater than our pleasure in the fruition of them. If we hope for what we are not likely to possess, we act and think in vain, and make life a greater dream and shadow than it really is.
Such as we may reasonably expect from them what we propose, &c.] As is here improperly used for that, the relative for the conjunction. It has its right use in the next sentence—such as we are pretty sure of attaining. But the whole had better been given thus-Such as are likely to yield us what we propose, &c.—and such as we are pretty sure, &c. It may seem capricious in the author to say-whether they be such, in the first sentence, and whether they are such, in the last. But the conjunction, whether, admitting both the subjunctive and indicative mood, the ear has its choice of either; and Mr. Addison's was a very nice one. Besides, whether they be, is rather the more exact construction of the two, and therefore the repetition of it in the following sentence might appear to Mr. Addison like an affectation of exactness, or, what we call, formality, which his gracious prose is always studious to avoid. However, to palliate this change of the mood, and introduce it with less offence, he does not say," whether they be such”-and “are such,” which, by bringing the two moods so close together, would point out their incongruity; but, “ whether they be such,” and then again," and whether they are such,"in two distinct complete sentences.