« PreviousContinue »
epithets "narrow and selfish," which he applies to the Christian system, properly belong to his own.
In his Inquiry concerning Virtue, contained in the second volume of his Characteristics, though he allows it to consist in our being proportionably affected towards the whole system to which we bear a relation; (p. 17.) and that this world may be only a part of a more extended system; (p. 20.) yet he studiously leaves out God as the head of it. Among all the relations which he enumerates, there is no mention of that between the creature and the Creator. His enlarged and disinterested scheme of morality is at last nothing more than for a creature to regard those "of its own kind, or species:" Not only is all gentleness, kindness, and compassion to inferior creatures left out, but the love of God is not in it. On the contrary, it is the professed object of his Inquiry, to prove that virtue, goodness, or moral excellence, may exist without religion, and even "in an Atheist." (p. 6.) In short, it is manifest that it is the love of God, and not self-love, to which his love of virtue, for its own sake, stands opposed. That for which he pleads is the impious spirit of a child, who disregarding his father's favour, pays no attention to his commands, as his commands; but complies with them only on account of their approving themselves to his own mind. But this is no other than self-will, which instead of being opposed to self love, is one of its genuine exercises.
"Our holy religion," says this sneering writer, takes but little notice of the most heroic virtues, such as zeal for the public, and our country." That Christianity takes but little notice of what is commonly called patriotism, is admitted; and if Lord Shaftesbury had been free from that narrowness of mind" which it is his intention here to censure; yea, if he had only kept to his own definition of virtue-" a regard to those of our own kind, or species," he would have taken as little. By the public good, he evidently means no more than the temporal prosperity of a particular country; which is to be sought at the expense of all other countries with whom it happens, justly or unjustly, to be at variance
* Characteristics, Vol. I. pp. 98, 99.
Christianity, we acknowledge, knows nothing of this spirit. It is superior to it. It is not natural for a Christian to enter into the antipathies, or embroil himself in the contentions of a nation, however he may be occasionally drawn into them. His soul is much more in its element when breathing after the present and future happiness of a world. In undertakings, both public and private, which tend to alleviate the miseries, and enlarge the comforts of human life, Christians have ever been foremost : and when they have conceived themselves lawfully called even into the field of battle, they have not been wanting in valour. But the heroism to which they principally aspire is of another kind: it is that of subduing their own spirit, doing good against evil, seeking the present and eternal well-being of those who hate them, and laying down their lives if required, for the name of the Lord Jesus.
Such is the "narrow spirit" of Christians; and such have been their "selfish pursuits." But these are things which do not emblazon their names in the account of unbelievers. The murderers of mankind will be applauded before them. But they have enough: their blood is precious in the sight of the Lord, and their names are enbalmed in the memory of the upright.
THE LIVES OF THOSE WHO REJECT THE GOSPEL WILL NOT BEAR A COMPARISON WITH THEIRS WHO EMBRACE IT.
No books are so plain as the lives of men; no characters so legible as their moral conduct. If the principles of a body of men will not bear this criterion, we may expect to hear them exclaim against it as unfair, and uncertain; but when they have said all, they will endeavour to avail themselves of it, if possible. It is thus that the virtues of idolaters are the constant theme of deistical panegyric; and all the corruptions, intrigues, persecutions, wars, and mischiefs, which of late ages have afflicted the earth, are charged to the account of Christians. It is thus that Christian ministers under the name of priests, are described as mercenary, designing, and hypocritical; and the lives of hectoring profligates praised in comparison of them.* In short, it is thus that Christians are accused of fanaticism, affectation, ingratitude, presumption, and almost every thing else that is mean and base; and men are persuaded to become deists, with an assurance that, by so doing, they will "live more consistently, and morally, than by any other system.t
But let us examine whether these representations accord with fact. Is it fact, that the ancient philosophers of Greece and Rome were virtuous characters? It is true, that like the Deists, they talked and wrote much about virtue; and if the latter may be believed, they were very virtuous. "They opposed each other," says Voltaire, "in their dogmas; but in morality they were all
*Hume's Essays Moral and Political, Essay XXIV.
+ Age of Reason, Part I. p. 21.
agreed." After loading each of them with encomiums, he sums up by affirming, "There has been no philosopher in all antiquity who has not been desirous of making men better."* This is a very favorable report; and, if well founded, the writer of the first chapter of the Epistle to the Romans must not only have dealt largely in calumny, but have possessed the most consummate effrontery, to address such an epistle to the citizens of Rome, who from their own knowledge must have been able to contradict him. There are other reports, however, of a very different complexion.
It is no part of my design to enter minutely into this subject; nor is it necessary. Many able writers have proved, from the most authentic sources of information, that the account given of the heathens by the Apostle is not exaggerated. An extract or two from their writings will be sufficient for my purpose.
"Epictetus bids you temporize, and worship the gods after the fashion of your country. Pythagoras forbids you to pray to God, because you know not what is convenient.‡ Plutarch commends Cato Uticencis, for killing himself amidst philosophic thoughts, with resolution and deliberation, after reading Plato on the immortality of the soul.§ Cicero pleads for self-murder. Herein he was seconded by Brutus, Cassius, and others who practised it. Many of their learned men applauded their opinion and practice. Seneca thus pleads for it: 'If thy mind be melancholy and in misery, thou mayest put a period to this wretched condition: wherever thou lookest, there is an end to it. See that precipice; there thou mayest have liberty. Seest thou that sea, that river, that well? Liberty is at the bottom of it: that little tree? freedom hangs upon it: : thy own neck, thy own throat may be a refuge to thee from such servitude; yea, every vein of thy body.'||
We may find in the heathen philosophers, customary swearing commended, if not by their precepts, yet by the examples of their best moralists, Plato, Socrates, Seneca, and Julian the emperor; in whose works numerous oaths, by Jupiter, Hercules, the Sun,
* Ignorant Philosopher, p. 60. + Enchiridon, Cap. 38. p. m. 56.
Plutarch's Life of Cato, near the end.
De ira, Lib. 3. Cap. 15. p. m. 319.