A mind destitute of knowledge is like a field on which no culture has been bestowed, which, the richer it is, the worse weeds it will produce. If nothing good be sown in it, it will be occupied by plants that are useless or obnoxious.
Thus, the mind of man can never be wholly barren.
Finding yourselves, therefore, in such a world as this, in which nothing is at a standstill, it behooves you seriously to reflect upon your situation and prospects.
Form then, the generous resolution (and every thing depends upon your resolution) of being at present what you will certainly wish you had been some years from now, what your best friends now wish you to be, and what your Maker has intended, fitted, and enabled you to be.
Above all things, be careful to improve and make use of the reason which God has given you, to be the guide of your lives, to check the extravagance of your passions, and to assist you in acquiring that knowledge, without which your rational powers will be of no advantage to you.
If you would distinguish yourselves as human beings, and attain the true dignity and proper happiness of your natures, it must be by the exercise of those faculties which are peculiar to you as men.
If you have no higher objects than the gratification of your animal appetites and passions, you rank yourselves with the brute beasts.
In fact, you are incapable of the happiness of brute animals. Aspire therefore, to those superior pursuits and gratifications for which you were formed, and which are the prerogative and glory of your natures.
Let it be seen, that when God is considered as the proper object of reverence, love and confidence, as the benevolent Father of all His offspring of humanity, and their righteous and impartial moral Governor, the principle of obedience is the most ingenuous and effectual.
Cherish the most genuine gratitude to the Father of lights, that your minds are no longer bewildered with the gloom and darkness, in which our excellent religion was, for so many ages, involved. And let this consideration be a motive with you to walk as becomes so glorious a light.
In a thing so interesting to you as the business of religion, affecting the regulation of your conduct here, so as to prepare you for immortal happiness hereafter, respect no human authority and stand fast in the liberty with which God has made you free.
March 24, 2021 will mark the 288th anniversary of the birth of Joseph Priestley, a scientist (discoverer of oxygen) as well as a religious thinker and theological speaker. The preceding was adapted excerpts from his book "Institutes of Natural and Revealed Religion," published in 1772.
(Adapted from the "Dedication of 'Institutes of Natural & Revealed Religion,' by Joseph Priestley, 1772)