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part, which I shall not fail to make good on all occasions.
You ask me, “what is the shortest and suręst way, for a young gentleman, to attain a true knowledge of the Christian religion, in the full and just extent of it?" For so I understand your question; if I have mistaken in it, you must set me right. And to this I have a short and plain answer : « Let him study the Holy Scripture, especially the New Testament.” Therein are contained the words of eternal life. It has God for its author; salvation for its end ; and truth, without any mixture of error, for its matter. So that it is a wonder to me, how any one professing Christianity, that would seriously set himself to know his religion, should be in doubt where to employ his search, and lay out his pains for his information; when he knows a book, where it is all contained, pure and entire ; and whither, at last, every one must have recourse, to verify that of it, which he finds any where else.
Your other question, which I think I may call two or three, will require a larger answer...
As to morality, which, I take it, is the first in those things you inquire after; that is best to be found in the book that I have already commended to you. But because you may perhaps think, that the better to observe those rules, a little warning may not be inconvenient, and some method of ranging them be useful for the memory; I recommend to you the Whole Duty of Man, as a methodical system ; and if you desire a larger view of the parts of morality, I know not where you will find them so well and distinctly explained, and so strongly enforced, as in the practical divines of the church of England. The sermons of Dr. Barrow, archbishop Tillotson, and Dr. Whichcote, are masterpieces in this kind; not to name abundance of others, who excel on that subject. If you have a mind to see how far human reason advanced in the discovery of morality, you will have a good specimen of it in Tully's Offices; unless you have a mind to look farther back into the source from whence he drew his rules; and then you must consult Aristotle, and the other Greek philosophers.
Though prudence be reckoned among the cardinal virtues, yet I do not remember any professed treatise of morality, where it is treated in its full extent, and with that accuracy that it ought. For which possibly this may be a reason, that every imprudent action does not make a man culpable “ in foro conscientiæ.” The business of morality I look upon to be the avoiding of crimes ;. of prudence, inconveniencies, the foundation whereof lies in knowing men and manners. History teaches this best, next to experience; which is the only effectual way to get a knowledge of the world. As to the rules of prudence, in the conduct of common life, though there be several that have employed their pens therein ; yet those writers have their eyes so fixed on convenience, that they sometimes lose the sight of virtue; and do not take care to keep themselves always elear from the borders of dishonesty, whilst they are tracing out what they take to be, sometimes, the securest way to success; most of those that I have seen on this subject having, as it seemed to me, something of this defect. So that I know none that I can confidently recommend to your young gentleman, but the son of Sirach.
To “ complete a man in the practice of human of.. fices,” (for to that tend your inquiries) there is one thing more required; which, though it be ordinarily considered, as distinct both from virtue and prudence, yet I think it so nearly allied to them, that he will scarce keep himself from slips in both, who is without it. That, which I mean, is good breeding. The school, for a young gentleman to learn it in, is the conversation of those who are well-bred.
As to the last part of your inquiry, which is after “ books that will give an insight into the constitution of the government, and real interest of his country;" to proceed orderly in this, I think the foundation should be laid in inquiring into the ground and nature of civil society; and how it is formed into different models of government; and what are the several species of it. Aristotle is allowed a master in this science, and few enter upon the consideration of government, without
reading his Politics. Hereunto should be added, true notions of laws in general; and property, the subject-matter about which laws are made. He, that would acquaint himself with the former of these, should thoroughly study the judicious Hooker's first book of Ecclesiastical Polity. And property I have nowhere found more clearly explained, than in a book intitled, Two Treatises of Government. But not to load your young gentleman with too many books on this subject, which require more meditation than reading; give me leave to recommend to him Puffendorf's little Treatise, De Officio Hominis et Civis.
To get an insight into the particular constitution of the government of his own country, will require a little more reading; unless he will content himself with such a superficial knowledge of it as is contained in Chamberlayne's State of England; or Smith De Republica Anglicana. Your inquiry manifestly looks farther than that; and to attain such a knowledge of it, as becomes a gentleman of England to have, to the purposes that you mention, I think he should read our ancient lawyers; such as Bracton, Fleta, The Mirror of Justice, &c. which our cousin King* can better direct you to, than I : joining with them the History of England under the Normans, and so continuing it down quite to our times; reading it al. ways in those authors who lived nearest those times; their names you will find, and characters often, in Mr. Tyrrel's History of England. To which, if there be added a serious consideration of the laws made in each reign, and how far any of them influenced the constitution; all these together will give him a full insight into what you desire.
As to the interest of any country, that, it is manifest, lies in its prosperity and security. Plenty of well employed people, and riches within, and good alliances abroad, make it strength. But the ways of attaining these comprehend all the arts of peace and war; the management of trade; the employment of the poor;
* Sir Peter King.
and all those other things that belong to the administration of the public; which are so many, so various, and so changeable, according to the mutable state of men, and things, in this world ; that it is not strange, if a very small part of this consists in book-learning. He, that would know it, must have eyes open upon the present state of affairs; and from thence take his measures of what is good, or prejudicial, to the interest of his country.
You see how ready I am to obey your commands, though in matters wherein I am sensible of my own ignorance. I am so little acquainted with books, especially on those subjects relating to politics, that you must forgive, if perhaps I have not named to you the best in every kind. And you must take it as a mark of my readiness to serve you, that I have ventured so far out of what lay in my way of reading, in the days that I had leisure to converse with books. The knowledge of the Bible, and the business of his calling, is enough for an ordinary man; a gentleman ought to go farther.
Those of this place return their service and thanks, for the honour of your remembrance.
I am, &c.
To the same.
I am sorry to find, that the question, which was the most material, and my mind was most upon, was answered so little to your satisfaction, that you are fain to ask it again. Since therefore you ask me a second time, “ what is the best method to study religion?” I must ask you, “what religion you mean?” For if it be, as I understood you before, the “ Christian relig‘on in its full extent and purity;" I can make you no other answer but what I did, viz. that “the only way to attain a certain knowledge of that, is the study of the Holy Scripture.” And my reason is, because the Christian religion is a revelation from God Almighty, which
is contained in the Bible; and so all the knowledge we can have of it must be derived from thence. “ But if you ask, which is the best way to get the knowledge of the Romish, Lutheran, or reformed religion, of this or that particular church, &c.” each whereof intitles itself to be the true Christian religion, with some kind of exclusion or diminution to the rest ; that will not be hard to tell you. But then it is plain that the books, that best teach you any one of these do most remove you from all the rest; and in this way of studying, you pitch upon one as the right, before you know it to be so; whereas that choice should be the result of your study of the Christian religion, in the sacred Scriptures. And the method I have proposed would, I presume, bring you the surest way to that church, which, I imagine, you already think most conformable to the word of God.
I find the letter you last honoured me with contains a new question, and that a very material one, viz. “what is the best way of interpreting the sacred Scripture ?" Taking “ interpreting” to mean “understanding,"I think the best way for understanding the Scripture, or the New Testament, (for of that the question will here be in the first place) is to read it assiduously and diligently; and, if it can be, in the original. I do not mean, to read every day some certain number of chapters, as is usual ; but to read it so, as to study and consider, and not to leave till you are satisfied that you have got the true meaning.
To this purpose, it will be necessary to take the assistance of interpreters and commentators; such as are those called the critics, and Pool's Synopsis Criticorum ; Dr. Hammond on the New Testament, and Dr. Whitby, &c.
I should not think it convenient to multiply books of this kind, were there any one that I could direct you to, that was infallible. But you will not think it strange, if I tell you, that, after all, you must make use of your own judgment; when you consider, that it is and always will be, impossible to find an expositor, whom you can blind-fold rely upon, and cannot be mistaken in following. Such resignation as that, is due to the holy