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Sabbath Rest: Dignity’s Quartet
Nathanael Emmons wanted to articulate his sermon on the dignity of man in the clearest of terms. He turned to a straightforward technique as understandable today as it was ...

Sabbath Rest: Dignity’s Quartet

Nathanael Emmons wanted to articulate his sermon on the dignity of man in the clearest of terms. He turned to a straightforward technique as understandable today as it was in the late 1700s Emmons numbered the points of his message. As a result, his message rang true with the clarity of a string quartet.

“First, man hath a capacity for constant and perpetual progression in knowledge,” Emmons declared. He also noted that animals have a degree of knowledge. The ox may know his owner, but such creatures are incapable of expanding their knowledge through the study of books. “The bee cannot improve her skill, nor the ant her prudence, by observation or study … But, man is capable of improving in knowledge as long as he enjoys the means or materials of improvement,” continued Emmons, referring to Solomon as an example of someone whose wisdom increased and surpassed all others.

“Secondly, man hath a capacity for holiness as well as knowledge. The horse and mule which have no understanding, and indeed all the lower animals, are utterly incapable of holiness … But man is capable of holiness. His rational and moral faculties both capacitate and oblige him to be holy.”

Humans are able to discern right from wrong. They have a conscience. They are capable of justice, mercy, and humility.

“Thirdly, that man hath a capacity for happiness, equal to his capacity for holiness and knowledge. Knowledge and holiness are the grand pillars which support all true and substantial happiness,” Emmons proclaimed, describing how Solomon fell to his knees at the dedication of the temple because he was so full of joy.

“Fourthly, that man hath a capacity for great and noble actions,” stated Emmons. He cited the Middle East’s pyramids, tombs, and temples and pointed to Greece and Rome as examples of humanity’s ability to build great things. He also praised Newton for his material discoveries and Locke for his intellect. Emmons proclaimed that greater things, such as the spread of the gospel, were yet to be completed.

“Thus the image, which man bears of his Maker, the immortal spirit which resides with him, the distinguishing favours, which he has received from the Father of mercies, and all his noble powers and faculties, unite to stamp a dignity upon his nature, and raise him high in the scale of being,” Emmons concluded.

In this sermon, Nathanael Emmons fine-tuned dignity’s quartet of knowledge, holiness, happiness, and action. He wanted his congregation to understand they were more than mere beasts burdened by life’s labors. Because of God’s gift of dignity, they had great potential.

Prayer

God, I pray for the ability to fully understand, appreciate, and use the capacity you have given me for knowledge, holiness, happiness, and action.

“The ox knows his master, the donkey his owner’s manger, but Israel does not know, my people do not understand”

(Isaiah 1:3).


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