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PART II. THE LIFE OF FAITH AND LOVE FOLLOWED BY THE CRUCIFIXION OF THE LIFE OF NATURE.


CHAPTER SEVENTH.


On the nature and regulation of the principle of Curiosity.


THE principle of curiosity, like the other propensities which have been mentioned, is an original principle of our mental constitution. It is implanted there in the wisdom and goodness of the great Being, who constituted the mind; and may justly be regarded as an appropriate and essential attribute of every rational nature. It is hardly necessary to say, that this principle is given to be employed. It is altogether desirable and proper, that men should inquire, and reflect, and obtain knowledge. But this principle also is liable to be perverted. One of the greatest obstacles, which practical sanctification has to contend with, is the prevalence of a spirit of irregular and unchastened curiosity. It is here that Satan has taken up his position in great security and strength, almost unseen by any one; and is throwing his weapons, and slaying numbers, who seem to be entirely ignorant what poisoned dart has hit them.

I will take a case, by no means an uncommon one, which will stand for many others. Here is an individual, a member of a church, who sustains in the view of his brethren, a fair religious reputation, but who, by his own confession, has but little real communion with God, and like many others, has but little religious enjoyment. And what is the reason of this? He is constant at church; he is regular in his family devotions; he is fair and honest in his transactions in business; he is liberal to the poor and to the cause of religious missions; and he does not perceive himself, and others do not clearly perceive, why he does not walk with God, and enjoy continually the light of his countenance. But the reason is, that he is ignorantly seeking himself and making an idol of himself, contrary to the will and the honor of God, by indulging a wandering and excessive curiosity. It has perhaps never occurred to him that he is as much accountable to God for the regulation of the curious or inquisitive propensity, as for any other principle of our nature. This principle he exercises in a way to gratify himself, by indulging inordinately in a variety of miscellaneous reading, by lending an itching ear to the constant influx of political news, by taking an undue interest in the constantly circulating gossip of families and neighborhoods; in a word, by a strong and almost irresistible craving to hear every thing that is to be heard, and to know every thing that is to be known, whether good or evil, profitable or unprofitable. Like the Athenians of old, he spends no small portion of that time which God has committed to him as a precious trust, in telling or hearing some new thing. Such is the melancholy statement, which is applicable to hundreds and thousands of those who bear the Christian name. There can be no doubt that the evils of this state of things are manifold and great.

(1.) — In the first place, the undue indulgence of the principle of curiosity, by filling the mind with that which is unprofitable, necessarily excludes much which is of essential value. There are undoubtedly limits to the mind's receptive capacity. And there is such a thing as filling and crowding it so completely with other things, as to exclude, in a great degree, the idea of God, and many important religious truths. How is it possible for God to dwell in a mind, that is already occupied, "pressed down and running over," if one may so express it, with idle thoughts, with foolish and romantic speculations, with the criminations and recriminations of party politics, with idle and often cruel and unjust village and neighborhood reports, which are indiscriminately sought and swallowed by the insatiable eagerness of this principle, when it has become excessive in its action?

(2.)— Another remark is, that a life, of which excessive curiosity is the leading element, is necessarily antagonistical to a life of faith. Knowledge necessarily excludes faith, in regard to the thing which is known. And we do not hesitate to say, that ignorance with faith is, in many things, better than knowledge without it. In many things, therefore, having relation to ourselves and others, and especially in many things, which have relation to the divine government, we must be willing to remain in the darkness of sense, in order that we may enjoy the light of religious trust. It is obvious, that this is a condition, to which the man of excessive curiosity does not easily submit. He is restless in his state of ignorance, because he has but little trust in God. How different is the state of mind, (a state of mind which many Christians can testify to be of inexpressible value,) which is disclosed in the devout words of Fenelon. "Behold my wants which
I am ignorant of; but do Thou behold, and do according to thy mercy. Smite or heal! Depress or raise me up! I adore all thy purposes without knowing them."

(3.) l — We remark again, that the unrestrained action of the principle under consideration is inconsistent, to a considerable extent at least, with that degree of religious retirement, and with that inward and outward silence, which have so close a connection with the growth of the inward life. It cannot reasonably be expected, when we consider the natural results in the case, that men, who indulge an excessive curiosity, will find time to be much alone with God, or that they will be possessed of that "quietness of spirit," which the Bible has pronounced to be of great price. On the contrary, they are necessarily compelled to pay the heavy penalty of their unchastened eagerness of spirit, by being withdrawn from the inward to the outward, and by finding it easier and sweeter to their perverted tastes to indulge in the attractions and excitements of the world, than to commune with the calmness and purity of the God of peace.

(4.) — But this is not all. The evil, which we are considering, strikes still more directly at the life of religion in the soul. The man, who indulges in excessive curiosity, makes this indulgence, in other words, his love of some new thing, his IDOL. The tyranny, which the love of news exercises over him, is as strong and as terrible, as the tyranny, which the love of his possessions exercises over the mind of the miser. And it is not too much to say of him, that he worships NEWS as really and as strongly, as other men worship MONEY. And how can we suppose, that the love of God, which is inconsistent with the inordinate love of every thing else, can take up its residence in a heart that is in this situation?

We trust that none will pervert these important views. The principle of curiosity is one of the most important and powerful principles of our nature. But it varies in its exercise. Sometimes, it must be admitted, it is too weak. At other times it so increases in strength as not only to be inordinately active and strong, but so much so as to assume almost a diseased or morbid character. The doctrine, therefore, which we propose, is nothing more nor less than this, viz.: That this powerful and important principle should be properly regulated. It ought to be as strictly and carefully brought to the test of supreme rectitude, as any other internal principle, such as the love of society, or the natural desire of esteem, or of happiness. We are bound, as seekers or professors of holiness, to pray for direction in what we shall
know, as much as we are to pray for direction in what we shall do. And unless this rule is constantly and devoutly observed, no person is at liberty to indulge the belief, that he is acceptable with God.

Let us not forget the awful lesson, which stands written in the early records of our fallen race. When our first parent, under the instigations of Satan, who declared to her that she should be as gods, "knowing good and evil," beheld the fruit of the forbidden tree, as
desirable to make one wise, she took it and did eat. How much better, we may well exclaim, in view of an event attended with such melancholy results, is ignorance with holiness, than knowledge with transgression! — Knowing, then, the dangers, generally so little understood and so little suspected, of an unrestrained and unhallowed curiosity, may we go to the great Teacher, who will never guide us wrong. The language of our blessed Savior is, "LEARN OF ME, for I am meek and lowly in heart, and ye shall find rest to your souls." We need not fear that he will consign us to any ignorance which is really unprofitable. It is true, He will not, like the great enemy of our race, direct to the pursuit of any form of knowledge which will involve us in destruction; but he will encourage us in the pursuit of true knowledge. It is given to the people of Christ, in his own cheering expressions, "to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven." And while, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, they will be permitted to become acquainted with all those forms of secular knowledge which are truly desirable and proper, the great subjects of their thoughts and inquiries will be the truths and mysteries of the heavenly kingdom. And thus grace and peace shall be multiplied to them, "through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord."