Timeless wisdom . . . easier taught than learned
Alexander Archibald’s counsels to serminary students:
(1) Keep habitually in view the awful importance of the office which you have in view.
(2) Cherish assiduously the sincere and ardent love of truth.
(3) Meditate frequently and profoundly on the imbecility of the human intellect.
(4) Accustom yourselves to such divine direction in every thing and to depend entirely on the divine blessing for success in your studies.
(5) Learn to think for yourselves. Depend rather on your own faculties than on those of other men.
(6) Avoid hasty discussion and premature judgments. Endeavor to get a full view of a subject before you form a decisive opinion.
(7) Avoid of the same time the more dangerous extreme of a skeptical, unsettled state of mind.
(8) Consider always what kind of evidence any particular subject admits of and be satisfied when you have such as the nature of the case requires.
(9) Be not discouraged from aiming at high attainments in literature, by the difficulties which belong to the subjects, or by a sense of the weakness of your own faculties. No man knows how much he can accomplish before the trial. Moderate abilities, by diligence and perseverance, have made astonishing progress. Many things which appear extremely difficult at first become easy by degrees. Those men who have become most eminent in literature have struggled valiantly through the same difficulties which now encompass you.
(10) Lay the foundation deeply and solidly. Be not too hasty in securing the superstructure. Though your progress in this way be slow at first it will become rapid in due time. I mean that you should understand distinctly elementary principles and acquire that knowledge which is necessary as a means of extending your inquiries after truth. A scattered and superficial knowledge of many things serve only to make a man flippant in conversation. Acquire incidentally all you can.
(11) Do not waste your time and strength on studies which are never likely to be profitable but do not hastily conclude that this and that are unimportant.
(12) After having undertaken any important literary pursuit do not relinquish it on account of inconsiderable difficulties. When circumstances imperiously require you to abandon, for the present, any study in which you have had some progress, seize the first favorable opportunity of resuming it.
(13) So regulate your attention to your studies as never to lose any part of learning which you have gained. A little care and diligence will enable you to preserve knowledge once acquired, and whatever is worth gaining is worth preserving. If you should be under a necessity of omitting attention to any branch of learning until you have forgotten it, be not discouraged from attempting to recover it when opportunity offers, for whatever we have ever known is easily secured, however completely it may seem to be obliterated for the present.
(14) Accustom yourselves to meditate on subjects which you wish to investigate in different situations and circumstances. Learn to think and reason closely and correctly when you have no access to books, and no opportunity of committing your thoughts to writing.
(15) But when circumstances will admit, write down your thoughts both for the sake of preserving them; and to assist you in confirming your attention to the subject and of forming more distinct ideas.
(16) When the investigation of some point is your object, think nothing of the language in which you clothe your ideas. Let attention to the style be a matter of subsequent consideration. First, collect your materials, then arrange them to the best advantage, and decorate them with such ornaments as are chaste and becoming.
(17) Animated and candid discussion of subjects in conversation with others engaged in the same course of study is one of the best methods of aiding us in acquiring distinct and perspicuous ideas.
(18) With respect to many parts of knowledge it is sufficient to know where they may be found when needed. That knowledge of books therefore which extends no further than their contents is important.
(19) All pious affections are favorable to the acquisition of real knowledge; and all depraved passions tend to pervert the understanding.
(20) Many physical causes affect the powers of the mind: diseases, watchfulness, fasting, exhilarating and intoxicating substance. Avoid all artificial methods of exciting and raising your minds.
(21) There is reason to believe that although inspiration has long since ceased, yet the Spirit of God does now in various ways guide, assist, and elevate the minds of men. This assistance may therefore be sought and expected, in our studies, and in our public performances. Teachers who depend on this aid are raised to an elevation of thought greatly above that to which they can commonly attain. This to some may appear like enthusiasm but I am not disposed to relinquish any thing which appears to me to be founded in fact and experience for fear of having the sentiment stigmatized with an odious name.
(22) Form habits of diligence in your studies. “Life is short and art is long” is as true now as formerly. Talents without industry are not sufficient. Without diligence, no man can become truly learned. To the theologian it is indispensable both as it relates to his studies and official duties.
(23) Diligence without method will enable us to make but little progress; adopt, therefore, and preserve a regular method in the disposal of your time and distribution of your studies. When you have your time judiciously apportioned you proceed with ease and alacrity like the traveler on a road where the distances are marked and the stages conveniently arranged for his accommodation.