Page images

istence, activity and improvement, he assumed the station of a learner, opened his mind ingenuously to the access of truth, maintained a ceaseless search after knowledge, and accustomed himself to a prompt and conscientious submission to the sway of evidence; the only position obviously which it becomes creatures to take—the attitude of humility, candor, integrity, and wisdom, and the noblest spectacle of greatness which men are capable of exhibiting to each other. He was accordingly eminently accustomed to be guided in his judgments by the light of facts, to erect his reasoning on the ground of evidence, and to limit his conclusions by the extent of his knowledge. He had no favorite theories which he made it his business at all events to maintain and propagate; no ends which required for their attainment the sacrifice of truth, or aid of dishonorable arts; none of that weak and ridiculous self-conceit, which acts on the assumption that it has monopolized the wisdom of the age, and makes the relations of opinions to itself, the sole measure of their truth and importance, and claims and expects implicit and universal submission to its dictation. It is accordingly in his distinguished exemption from these blemishes, and his ardent love of truth, that one of the principal elements is seen of the dignity of his character, and chief grounds of his superiority in knowledge and usefulness. This characteristic was indeed wholly indispensable in a station like that which he occupied in the direction of novel and extraordinary enterprises, in respect to which almost every thing was to be learned; the wisdom of measures at first in some degree conjectural, was to be tested by experience; new facts at every step to be brought to his knowledge, and fresh light cast on the principles and methods on which such undertakings

may be most successfully conducted. Entrusted as he was in a distinguished sense, with the guidance of these vast enterprises, his agency could have been productive of nothing but infinite mischief, had he been one of those vain, opinionated, obstinate, unteachable beings, who make it a matter of conscience and honour not to be instructed by experience, and who attempt to bend the laws and natures of the universe to their schemes of agency, in place of conforming their systems to those natures and laws. It is one of the noblest traits of wisdom, that it fits and excites its possessor to grow wiser.

IV. His conceptions of the great characteristics of human nature, and the principles on which useful influences are to be exerted over men, were eminently just.

Accurate and enlarged views of the nature of man, and the manner in which he is accustomed to be affected by the various species of influence that act on him, are essential to success in efforts at exerting any important sway over his purposes and conduct. Errors here, and they are extremely common, are not only adapted to prevent success, but will almost, as a matter of course, prove productive of great and irremediable evils. Men are not to be enticed into religion by flattery, nor awed into it by dictation; nor are they to be reformed by humouring their passions, aggravating their prejudices, or provoking their resentments. The communication to them of new views, is the only method by which any great and lasting change can be wrought in their principles and conduct; and truth,—the manifestation to them of their relations to God and each other, and enforcement on their moral sensibilities, of the infinite persuasions of the gospel, the only instrument by which they can be prompted to holiness.

Accurate views of the nature of men, and an intimate acquaintance with them as they exist in society, were peculiarly necessary in a station like that which Mr. Evarts was called to fill, which led him to an extensive intercourse with those of every diversity of sentiment and character, and made it a principal object of his agency, to unite them in methodical and permanent efforts for the diffusion of good. Any radical misapprehension of the principles on which such undertakings should be conducted, would inevitably have involved him in defeat. To have approached those whom he addressed for example, with the mere claims of authority, to have relied on appeals to their selfishness, or offered ridicule and reproach to those who resisted his solicitations, would have been merely to have excited their indignation and provoked their contempt. To misjudgment like this, however, he was eminently superior. He addressed his fellow men as rational beings, who are to be made efficient helpers in the great work of benevolence only, by becoming partakers of the same great views of the nature and obligations of religion, as he himself entertained, and thence of the same affections as were the foundation of

his own devotedness to that cause. He made persuasion accordingly, mild, dignified, and earnest, the sole means of his influence over them, and the great truths of religion the sole instrument of that persuasion; and his success in exciting their respect and interest, convincing their judgments, and engaging their co-operation, corresponded to the wisdom of his measures.

V. His views of the possibilities of usefulness to men were large and enlightened.

It were indeed, apart from experience, a matter of just expectation, from their intellectual and moral nature, that

wise and skilful efforts to enlighten and reform them must meet with success. They are indisputably capable of being instructed in the great truths of religion, and susceptible of influence from its moral considerations. Their sensibilities are precisely those which the truths of the gospel are adapted to excite, and consequently when brought to act on them in their full force, they must naturally produce fit and powerful effects.

These conclusions, however, from the adaptation of the moral means of the gospel to the natures of men, are amply confirmed by experience. All wisely directed efforts to bring its influence to bear on their sensibilities, have proved more or less successful, and their success has probably, generally been proportioned to the skill and freedom from error with which they have been conducted. Whenever they have failed, it has not been from any defect in the truths of christianity, or want of adaptation to such an instrumentality, but from some misjudgment in the method chosen of exhibiting them, or their intermixture with ignorance, prejudice, or error. When carried home to the intellect, conscience and heart, in their purity and power, they have ever proved mighty to the pulling down of the strong holds of sin, and turning men from the power of Satan unto God. This great fact of experience, and law of the divine administration, conjoined with the express promises of the efficacious co-operation of the Holy Spirit with the instrumentality of his word, forms a fit ground for the confident expectation of great success in all legitimate endeavors to conduct men to knowledge and obedience. It is the dictate of sound sense and enlightened philosophy, as well as the part of obedient faith, to anticipate a distinguished blessing of heaven on wise and strenuous efforts to carry an efficacious influence

to their hearts through that means. The cause is adapted to the effect, was devised and appointed by God for that instrumentality; the great work of applying it is enjoined on us as a high duty; and the efficacious agency of the Spirit is promised to secure its success. To doubt of his co-operation, therefore, and of that success in the fulfilment of this duty, were alike to distrust his veracity and question his wisdom. No limits indeed, can be discerned by us to the possibilities of usefulness through this instrumentality. There are instructions in the gospel adapted to every exigency for which they can be required, truths suited to impress every sensibility of our nature, considerations fitted to counteract and disarm every temptation that ever assails the human breast, and motives that are adequate to awaken conscience and prompt obedient affections, at every step of our progress through life; and our difficulty lies only in discovering from the nature of the mind and its accustomed modes of action, what those motives and methods of applying them are. Confidence however in the possibility and likelihood of success in these labours, is obviously essential to the existence of efficient inducements to undertake them. With what spirit or perseverance could they enter on such enterprises, who had no conviction of the adaptedness of the means and agency which they were to employ to give birth to such results, and no reliance on the divine power and purpose to give efficacy to their efforts; or who regarded the power of God and the efficaciousness of his appointed means, as circumscribed within narrow and uncertain limits?

With men of such sentiments, Mr. Evarts had no sympathy. His views of the possibilities and facilities of usefulnesss were large and encouraging, as is seen from the nature and variety of the undertakings on which he entered

« PreviousContinue »