Today’s article is from a man who believed in a literal 6 day, 24 hour biblical creation. I wanted to share his words of wisdom with all of you in hopes that you will reflect upon them and apply them to your personal lives.
The Improvement of the Mind: Introduction
Directions for the attainment of useful Knowledge.
No man is obliged to learn and know everything; this can neither be sought or 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 lied 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 the much leisure and large opportunities 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 necessary relations to a family, a neighborhood, 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 judgment 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 practiced, 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 right 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 labor, together with the one day in seven in the Christian world, allow sufficient time for this, if men would be apply themselves to it with half so 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 lie the necessary duty and the interest of every person living to improve his understandings, 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 dishonor the God that made us reasonable creatures, we often become injurious to our neighbors, 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.
It is the design of logic to give this improvement to the mind, and to teach us the right use of reasoning the acquirement and communication of all useful knowledge: thought the greatest part of writers on that subject have turned it into a composition of hard words, trifles and subtitles for the mere use of the schools, and that only to amuse the minds and the ears of men with empty sounds, which flatter their vanity, and puff up their pride with a pompous and glittering show of false learning; and thus they have perverted the great and valuable design of that science.
A few modern writers have endeavored to recover the honor of logic, since that excellent author of the Art of Thinking led the way: among the rest I have presumed to make an attempt of the same kind, in a treatise published several years ago, wherein it was my constant aim to assist the reasoning powers of every rank and order of men, as well as to keep an eye to the best interest of the schools, and the candidates of true learning. There I have endeavored to show the mistakes we are exposed to in our conception, judgment, and reasoning; and pointed to the carious springs of them. I have also laid down many general and particular rules how to escape error, and attain truth in matters of the civil and religious life, as well as in the sciences.
But there are several other observations very pertinent to this purpose, which have not fallen so directly under any of those heads of discourse, or at least they would have swelled that treatise to an improper size; and therefore I have made a distinct collection of them here, out of various authors, as well as from my own observation, and set them down under the following heads.
The learned world who have done so much unmerited honor to that logical treatise, as to receive it into our flourishing universities, may possibly admit this as a Second Part, or Supplement to that treatise. And I may venture to persuade myself, that if the common and the busy ranks of mankind, as well as the scholar and the gentleman, would but transcribe such rules into their understanding, and practice them upon all occasions, there would be much more truth and knowledge found among men; and it is reasonable to hope that justice, virtue and goodness would attend as the happy consequents.
Isaac Watts (1674-1748), “The Introduction” to The Improvement of the Mind: or, A Supplement to the Art of Logic, published in 1822, N. Bangs and T. Mason, New York, pp. 15-18.
By studying, Watts was referring to Scripture and to other fields of interest including science. Do you have time to start your day with God’s Word? Perhaps you need to set the alarm 30 minutes earlier? Is 30 minutes too much to ask for God? What about your evening? Turn the television off and read some books or journals or even articles on the internet that deal with topics that would be considered to be important. Check out the materials at our bookstore for some great resources that deal with Scripture and various sciences and theology. Then may I recommend that you spend a few minutes in God’s Word and prayer before laying your head down on the pillow. You will find that you will sleep more restful and that you thoughts will be on Him and not other things.
Studying can also be done in groups such as your spouse and/or kids, friends, a small groups, etc. There are a number of ways to make studying rewarding, challenging and interesting.
I found it so interesting that in Watts’ day, they still had the problem of people claiming that they don’t have time to study and improve the mind, yet they have time for trifles and amusements. I found myself being convicted as I read his words from over 250 years ago. They seem as if they were written for today’s culture.