July 10, 2005

Isaac Watts (1674–1748) on the The Improvement of the Mind

No man is obliged to learn and know every thing; this can neither be sought nor required, for it is utterly impossible: yet all persons are under some obligation to improve their own understanding; otherwise it will be a barren desert, or a forest overgrown with weeds and brambles. Universal ignorance or infinite errors will overspread the mind, which is utterly neglected, and lies without any cultivation.

Skill in the sciences is indeed the business and profession but of a small part of mankind; but there are many others placed in such an exalted rank in the world, as allows them much leisure and large opportunity to cultivate their reason, and to beautify and enrich their minds with various knowledge. Even the lower orders of men have particular callings in life, wherein they ought to acquire a just degree of skill; and this is not to be done well without thinking and reasoning about them.

The common duties and benefits of society, which belong to every man living, as we are social creatures, and even our native and necessary relations to a family, a neighbourhood, or a government, oblige all persons whatsoever to use their reasoning powers upon a thousand occasions; every hour of life calls for some regular exercise of our judgement as to times and things, persons and actions: without a prudent and discreet determination in matters before us, we shall be plunged into perpetual errors in our conduct. Now that which should always be practised, must at some time be learnt.

Besides, every son and daughter of Adam has a most important concern in the affairs of a life to come; and therefore it is a matter of the highest moment for every one to understand, to judge, and to reason rightly about the things of religion. It is in vain for any to say, We have no leisure or time for it. The daily intervals of time, and vacancies from necessary labour, together with the one day in seven in the Christian world, allow sufficient time for this, if men would but apply themselves to it with half as much zeal and diligence as they do to the trifles and amusements of this life, and it would turn to infinitely better account.

Thus it appears to be the necessary duty and the interest of every person living to improve his understanding, to inform his judgment, to treasure up useful knowledge, and to acquire the skill of good reasoning, as far as his station, capacity, and circumstances furnish him with proper means for it. Our mistakes in judgment may plunge us into much folly and guilt in practice. By acting without thought or reason, we dishonour the God that made us reasonable creatures, we often become injurious to our neighbours, kindred, or friends, and we bring sin and misery upon ourselves: for we are accountable to God, our judge, for every part of our irregular and mistaken conduct, where he hath given us sufficient advantages to guard against those mistakes.
Isaac Watts, The Improvement of the Mind (London, 1833; repr. Morgan, PA: Soli Deo Gloria Publications, 1998), 1–2.

1 comment:

Andy said...

I wish that we in our era could appreciate the significance of the meditations here of Isaac Watts. But since we have largely abandoned belief in the existence of truth, we have largely abandoned the work of reason. It is easier to just feel and call our feelings truth, without ever testing those feelings. Sadly, this is done increasingly in the churches. How can the church recover the love for the truth, the love for the word of God, and the valuation of reason?