Page images

Serapis, and the like, do occur. In the same manner we see the unnatural love of boys recommended.* Aristippus maintained that it was lawful for a wise man to steal, commit adultery, and sacrilege, when opportunity offered; for that none of these actions were naturally evil, setting aside the vulgar opinion which was introduced into the world by silly and illiterate people-that a wise man might publicly, without shame or scandal, keep company with common harlots, if his inclinations led him to it. May not a beautiful woman be made use of,' he asks, because she is fair; or a youth because he is lovely? Certainly they may.' Ӡ



If, as Voltaire asserts, it was the desire of these philosophers to make men better, assuredly they employed very extraordinary means to accomplish their desire.

What are the lives recorded by Plutarch? Many of them, no doubt, entertained a high sense of honour, and possessed a large portion of patriotism. But were either of these morality? If by this term be meant such dispositions of the mind as are right, fit, and amiable, it was not. Their sense of honour was not of that kind which made them scorn to do evil; but like the false honour of modern duellists, consisted merely in a dread of disgrace. It induced many of them to carry about them the fatal means of selfdestruction and rather than fall into the hands of an adversary, to make use of them. And as to their patriotism, generally speaking, it operated not merely in the preservation of their country, but in endeavours to extend and aggrandize it at the expense of other nations. It was a patriotism inconsistent with justice and good will to men. Add to this, that fornication, adultery, and unnatural crimes, were common among them.


As to the moral state of society among heathens, both ancient and modern, we may have occasion to consider this a little more particularly hereafter. At present I would inquire, Is it fact that the persecutions, intrigues, wars, and mischiefs of late ages, are to be charged to the account of Christianity?

* Juvenal Satyr, II. ver. 10.

Diog. Laertius, Vol. I. p. m 165, 166. See in Millar's History of the Popagation of Christianity, Vol. I. p. 63–65.

With regard to persecution, nothing is more common with our adversaries than to lay it wholly at our door. They are continually alleging that the heathens all agreed to tolerate each other till Christianity arose. Thus writes Shaftesbury,* Hume,† Voltaire,‡ Gibbon, and Paine. That the heathen tolerated each other before the introduction of Christianity, is allowed; and they did the same after it. It was not against each other that their enmity was directed. In the diversity of their idols, and modes of worship, there were indeed different administrations, but it was the same lord; whereas in the religion of Jesus Christ, there was nothing that could associate with heathenism, but every thing that threatened its utter subversion.

It is allowed also that individual persecution, except in a few instances, commenced with Christianity: but who began the practice? Was it Jesus that persecuted Herod and Pontius Pilate; or they him? Did Peter and James and John and Paul set up for inquisitors, and persecute the Jews and Romans; or the Jews and Romans them? Did the primitive Christians discover any disposition to persecute? By whom was Europe deluged with blood in ten successive persecutions during the first three centuries; Were Christians the authors of this? When the church had so far degenerated as to imbibe many of the principles and superstitions of the heathen, then indeed it began to imitate their persecuting spirit; but not before. When Christ's kingdom was transformed into a kingdom of this world, the weapons of its warfare might be expected to become carnal, and to be no longer, as formerly mighty through God.

The religious persecutions among Christians have been compared to the massacres attending the French Revolution in the time of Robespierre. The horrid barbarities of the latter, it has been said by way of apology," have not even been equal to those of the former." If Deists may be allowed to confound Christianity and Popery, I shall not dispute the justness of the comparison. There is, no doubt, a great resemblance between the papal and the Infidel spirit; or rather they are one. Both are the spirit of this

* Characteristics, Vol. I. p. 18. Ignorant Philosopher, p. 83

+ Essay on Parties. History of Dec. Chap. II, p. 20. Age of Reason, Part II. Preface,

world, which is averse from true religion. The difference between them is but as that between the wolf and the tiger.* But those who reason thus, should prove that the reformers in religion have been guilty of excesses equal to those of the deistical reformers in politics. Were there any such assassinations among the Protestants towards one another, or towards the Papists, as have been wantonly committed by Infidels? It is true, there were examples of persecution among Protestants, and such as will ever remain a dishonour to the parties concerned; but those which affected the lives of men were few in number compared with the other, and those few, censurable as they are, were not performed by assassinations.

Mr. Paine affirms that, "all sects of Christians, except the Quakers, have persecuted in their turn." That much of this spirit has prevailed is too true: but this assertion is unfounded. I could name more denominations than one, whose hands, I believe, were never stained with blood, and whose avowed principles have always been in favour of Universal liberty of conscience.

But let us inquire into the principles and spirit of our adversaries on this subject. It is true that almost all their writers have defended the cause of liberty, and levelled their censures against persecution. But where is the man that is not an enemy to this practice, when it is directed against himself? have they discovered a proper regard to the rights of conscience among Christians? This is the question. There may be individuals among them who have; but the generality of their writers discover a shameful partiality in favour of their own side, and a contemptuous disregard of all who have suffered for the name of Christ. While they exhibit persecution in its deservedly infamous colours, they as constantly hold up the persecuted, if found among Christians, in a disadvantageous point of view. Mr. Hume allows, that "the

* The resemblance between Popery and Infidelity is pointed out with great beauty and energy in a piece which has ap peared in some of the periodical publications, entitled, The progress of the moderns, in knowledge, refinement, and virtue. See Theological Magazine, Vol. I. No. V. p. 344. Evangelical Magazine, Vol. IV. p. 405.



persecution of Christians in the early ages were cruel ;" but lays the blame chiefly on themselves:* and all through his history of England he palliates the conduct of the persecutors, and represents the persecuted in an unfavourable light. The same may be said of Gibbon, in his History of the decline of the Roman Empire; of Shaftesbury in his Characteristics; and indeed of the generality of deistical writers. Voltaire, boasting of the wisdom and moderation of the ancient Romans, says, "They never persecuted a single philosopher for his opinions, from the time of Romulus, till the Popes got possession of their powers " But did they not persecute Christians? The millions of lives that fell a sacrifice in the first three centuries after the Christian era, are considered as nothing by Voltaire. The benevolence of this apostle of deism feels not for men if they happen to be believers in Christ. If an Aristotle, a Pythagoras, or a Galileo suffer for their opinions, they are "martyrs :" but if a million of French Protestants," from a desire to bring back things to the primitive institutes of the church," endure the most cruel treatment, or quit their country to escape it, they, according to this writer, are "weak and obstinate men." Say, reader, are these men friends to religous liberty? To what does all their declamations against persecution amount but this-that such of them who reside in Christianized countries wish to enjoy their opinions without being exposed to it.

Till of late Deists have been in the minority in all the nations of Europe, and have therefore felt the necessity of a free enjoyment of opinion. It is not what they have pleaded under those circumstances, but their conduct when in power, that must prove them friends to religious liberty. Few men are known to be what they are till they are tried. They and Protestant Dissenters, have, in some respects been in a similar situation. Of late, each, in a different country, have become the majority, and the civil power has been intrusted in their hands. The descendants of the Puritans, in the western world, by dispensing the blessings `of liberty even to Episcopalians, by whose persecutions their

* Essay on Parties in general. + Ignorant Philosopher, pp. 82, 83.

[ocr errors]

ancestors were driven from their native shores, have shown themselves worthy of the trust. But have the Deists acted thus in France and other countries which have fallen into their hands? It is true, we believe them to have been the instruments in the hand of God, of destroying the papal Antichrist; and in this view we rejoice how beit they meant not so. If we judge of their proceedings towards the Catholics in the ordinary way of judging of human actions, which undoubtedly we ought, I fear it will be found not only persecuting, but perfidious and bloody in the



I am not without hope that liberty of conscience will be preserved in France; and if it should, it will be seen whether the subversion of the national establishment will prove, what the advisers of that measure without doubt expected, and what others who abborred it apprehended-the extinction of Christianity. It may prove the reverse, and issue in things which will more than balance all the ills attending the Revolution. These hopes, however, are not founded on an idea of the just or tolerant spirit of infidelity; but, so far as human motives are concerned, on that regard to consistency which is known to influence all mankind. If the leading men in France, after having so liberally declaimed against persecution, should ever enact laws in favour of it, or in violation of the laws encourage it, they must appear in a most disgraceful light in the opinion of the whole civilized world.

Not only persecution, but unjust wars, intrigues, and other mischiefs, are placed to the acccount of Christianity. That such things have existed, and that men who are called Christians have been deeply concerned in them, is true. Wicked men will act wickedly, by whatever name they are called. Whether these things be fairly attributable to the Christian religion, may be determined by a few plain inquiries.

First: Did these evils commence with Christianity, or have they increased under its iufluence? Has not the world, in every age with which history acquaints us, been a scene of corruption, intrigue tumult, and laughter? All that can plausibly be objected to Christianity is, that these things have continued in the world not

« PreviousContinue »