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I have a great subject before me of which I believe there is no better judge in this kingdom than yourself: and I have good reason to suppose, from your sincere attachment to the Christian Religion, that you are as much interested as myself in the use I am about to make of it.
From the common forms of school-education, our youth are in danger of returning back from the purity of Christians to the impure manners of Heathens; a very afflicting example of which once fell under my own observation. An amiable youth, of the first fashion, was found to have kept loose company very early in life; from which every bad consequence was to be apprehended. So far there is no rarity in the case : you must have heard many of them : and I should not mention it to you, but for the observation made
upon it by his father, which struck me to the heart; and I determined never to forget it all the days of my life. He accounted for the evil in the following manner : that his son having been accustomed at school to the loose ideas, communicated by Horace and other Heathen poets, had carried their principles into his own practice; and was therefore only in a train with other young men of his age and
education. Good God! said I to myself, is this the case ? and are we asleep about it? Do we sit still, and see Christians, under the light of the Gospel, sinking into worse than heathen corruption? This led me to consider, whether it be not possible to turn this evil into some good, by showing young men of learning, that, as the false religion of Heathens was borrowed from the true religion of Revelation, and is a witness to its authority, it ought rather to confirm us in the truth than draw us into evil. I thought, if this could be shown, something might be done toward the preservation of our youth, without breaking in upon the established forms of education : that the attempt would be laudable, and merit the thanks of parents, who see this matter in a proper light; that no learned teachers, if Christian, could be offended ; and that, at all events, he that should give notice of the evil, might deliver his own soul by it.
With these thoughts in my head, I sat down to examine the true state of the case: and to you, Sir, or any other gentleman who has gone over the common ground of classical erudition, there will be no difficulty in showing, not barely that the true Religion and the false have a resemblance in many particulars; but that the resemblance is wonderful and striking, in such a manner as will make the one a proof of the other; and I am convinced others must have been struck by it as I am. The Religion of the Divine Law comprehends the institutions of Priesthood, Sacrifice, Atonement, Purification, Prayers and Supplications. It gives us the history of Divine judgments, miraculous interpositions, sacred commemorations, and communications between God and Man. These are the doctrines which distinguish the Religion of the Bible; and we meet with them all in the Religion of
the Heathens. For in the first place, Heathens had priests. A priest is one of the first remarkable persons we meet with in the Iliad of Homer : and he appears under a very respectable character. He is not a minister appointed by the people: that absurdity was not then thought of. He is under the appointment and protection of a Deity; he wears the insignia of his power; and is seconded in a miraculous way by his interposition. The character is not given to him by halves. No Heathens were what we now call Low Churchmen: they carried things to such a height on the contrary part, that I wonder Infidels do not burn their books for teaching Tory principles, and bearing such testimony against themselves.
Now let any man ask himself the question-How Heathens ever came to think of such a thing as a priest ? a minister appointed by Heaven, to officiate between God and Man in holy things ? I say in holy things; for this is the reason of the name both in Greek and Latin. 'Iepɛùs is from ‘lepòs, sacred; and sacerdos in Latin from sacer. They never would, they never could, have thought of this, unless a priest had been first appointed by the true God. We go back to the times, when all the earth was of one religion : from which times, the Heathens began to carry off what we find amongst them. The fact is in no other way to be accounted for, Did nature ever invent a priest? The men of Nature, the Deists abhor the idea : they are gentlemen who can do every thing for themselves : they even look upon a Bishop at this day, not as an object of reverence, but of scorn and mockery; and call his ministry juggling and conjuring. In bringing things to this pass, Infidels have acted very unfairly : and indeed no man who knows them would expect any honesty from them. They have taken advantage of
the forms and fopperies of Popery; as if Christianity had been nothing till the Papists had spoilt it. What would Voltaire have done, if he could not have played on Popish abuses, to make the character of a priest ridiculous ? But if he had lived in other times, and had argued against the Heathen priests as he did against the Christians, the Heathens would have put him to death : perhaps they would have flayed him alive: they would not have crowned him with roses, and set up his image in their temples. They were mad enough in many things; but not so mad as that. Such acts were reserved for the time when Christians should run mad.
The case is then plain concerning the origin of priesthood. It must have come either from God, or from Nature, or from Tradition. From Nature it could not come; not a Deist in the nation will pretend it. If it came from tradition, that tradition must have had some true original; and this is but another way of saying that it came from God.
What we say of priesthood, we must say of sacrifice: they are relative terms : and one is nothing without the other : for in the one we have the minister, and in the other the ministry. And here we shall ask the same question as before. Did Nature think of sacrifice as a duty ? Never. She
She pronounces it to be folly.
moritur cur victima Stultitia est. Is it possible for reason to conclude, that the Creator can be pleased with the destruction of his creatures ? Can a guilty person become less guilty by adding one offence to another? Here some consideration must be admitted, which does violence to natural reason: and this is, the doctrine of man's fall into a sin
pro te ?
ful state : for without this the whole is an absurdity : it is an effect without a cause.
To suppose sacrifice is to suppose sin: and the heathen practice bears universal testimony to it: so that our Infidels have another reason for burning their heathen books. I grant that, when the Heathens themselves reasoned about it, they said many foolish things; nevertheless, the fact is what I insist upon. Some of them thought that animals were offered in sacrifice on a principle of revenge, because they did mischief. This might be a reason for killing them, but no reason for offering them to God by a religious act. The question still recurs, how came they to imagine that this could be an act of devotion, acceptable to God? Is the Creator revengeful, because we are so? Is he spiteful to poor creatures for being such as he made them ? Yet in this foolish manner did some of them argue, when they had lost the primary intention: they then thought this to be the original :
Prima putatur Hostia sus meruisse mori, quia semina pando Eruerit rostro, spemque interceperit anni. Ovid, lib. xv. But then they perceived, that not the most hurtful, but the most harmless creatures were chiefly condemned to this use; which, being contrary to the other practice, makes it senseless and absurd.
Victima labe carens, et præstantissima formâ,
This reason is in point against the other : for here the victim is to be the most perfect of an harmless kind:
Quid meruere boves ? animal sine fraude dolisque:
Quid meruistis oves, placidum pecus, &c.
When people talk and give reasons in ignorance, they are sure to betray themselves by talking incon