« PreviousContinue »
thanks be to God, a number of its attendant abominations, with various other immoral customs of the heathen, are, in a good measure, banished with it. We have no human sacrifices; no gladiatory combats; no public indecencies between the sexes; no law that requires prostitution; no plurality or community of wives; no dissolving of marriages on trifling occasions; nor any legal murdering of children, or of the aged and infirm. If unnatural crimes be committed among us, they are not common; much less are they tolerated by the laws, or countenanced by public opinion. On the contrary, the odium which follows such practices is sufficient to stamp with perpetual infamy the first character in the land. Rapes, incests and adulteries, are not only punishable by law, but odious in the estimation of the public. It is with us, at least in a considerable degree, as it was in Judea, where he that was guilty of such vices, was considered as a fool in Israel. The same, in less degrees, may be said of fornication, drunkenness, lying, theft, fraud, and cruelty; no one can live in the known practice of these vices, and retain his character. It cannot be pleaded in excuse with us, as it is in China, Hindostan, and Otaheite, that SUCH THINGS
ARE THE CUSTOM OF THE COUNTRY.
We freely acknowledge, that if we turn our eyes upon the great evils which still exist, even in those nations where Christianity has had the greatest influence, we find abundant reason for lamentation: but, while we lament the evil, there is no reason that we should overlook the good. Comparing our state with that of former times, we cannot but with thankfulness acknowledge, What hath God wrought!
I can conceive of but one question that can have any tendency to weaken the argument arising from the foregoing facts: viz. Are they the effects of Christianity? If they be not, and can be fairly accounted for on other principles, the argument falls to the ground: but if they be, though Shaftesbury satirize, Hume doubt, Voltaire laugh, Gibbon insinuate, and Paine pour forth scurrility like a torrent, yet honest men will say, An evil tree bringeth not forth good fruit: If this religion were not of God, it could do nothing.
If there be an adequate cause, distinct from Christianity, to which these effects may be ascribed, it becomes our adversaries
to state it. Meanwhile, I may observe, they are not ascribable to any thing besides Christianity that has borne the name of religion. As to that of the ancient heathens, it had no manner of relation to morality. The priests, as Dr. Leland has proved. "made it not their business to teach men virtue."* It is the same with modern heathens: their religion has nothing of morality pertaining to it. They perform a round of superstitious observances, which produce no good effect whatever upon their lives. What they were yesterday, they are to-day; no man repenteth himself of his wickedness, saying, What have I done! Nor is it materially different with Mahometans. Their religion, though it includes the acknowledgment of one living and true God, yet, rejecting the Messiah as the Son of God, and attaching them to a bloody and lascivious impostor, produces no good effect upon their morals, but leaves them under the dominion of barbarity and voluptuousness. In short, there is no religion but that of Jesus Christ that so much as professes to bless men by turning them from their iniquities.
Neither can these effects be attributed to philosophy. A few great minds despised the idolatries of their countrymen; but they did not reform them: and no wonder; for they practised what they themselves despised. Nor did all their harangues in favor of virtue produce any substantial effect, either on themselves or others. The heathen nations were never more enlightened as to philosophy, than at the time of our Saviour's appearance; yet as to morality, they never were more depraved.
It is Christianity then,. and nothing else, which has destroyed the odious idolatry of many nations, and greatly contracted its attendant immoralities. It was in this way that the gospel operated in the primitive ages, wherever it was received; and it is in the same way that it continues to operate to the present time. Real Christians must needs be averse to these things; and they are the only men living who cordially set themselves against them.
This truth will receive additional evidence from an observation of the different degrees of morality produced in different places, according to the degree of purity with which the Christian religion
* Advantage and Necessity of Revelation, Vol. II. p. 38.
has been taught, and liberty given it to operate. In several nations of Europe, popery has long been established, and supported by sanguinary laws. By these means the Bible has been kept from the common people, Christian doctrine and worship corrupted, and the consciences of men subdued to a usurper of Christ's authority. Christianity is there in prison; and anti-christianism exalted in its place. In other nations this yoke is broken. Every true Christian has a Bible in his family, and measures his religion by it. The rights of conscience also being respected, men are allowed, in religious matters, to judge and act for themselves; and Christian churches are formed according to the primitive model. Christianity is here at liberty: here, therefore, it may be expected to produce its greatest effects. Whether this does not correspond with fact, let those who are accustomed to observe men and things with an impartial eye determine.
In Italy, France, and various other countries, where the Christian religion has been so far corrupted as to lose nearly all its influence, illicit connexions may be formed, adulterous intrigues pursued, and even crimes against nature committed, with but little dishonor. Rousseau could here send his illegitimate offspring to the Foundling Hospital, and lay his accounts with being applauded for it, as being the custom of the country. It is not so in Britain, and various other nations, where the gospel has had a freer course; for though the same dispositions are discovered in great numbers of persons, yet the fear of the public frown holds them in awe. If we except a few abandoned characters, who have nearly lost all sense of shame, and who, by means either of their titles or fortunes on the one hand, or their well-known baseness on the other, have almost bid defiance to the opinion of mankind, this observation will hold good; I believe, as to the bulk of the inhabitants of protestant countries.
And it is worthy of notice, that in those circles or connexions where Christianity has had the greatest influence, a sobriety of character is carried to a much higher degree than in any other. Where there is one divorce from among protestant dissenters, and other serious professors of Christianity, there are, I believe, a hundred from among those whose practice it is to neglect the
worship of God, and to frequent the amusements of the theatre. And in proportion to the singularity of such cases, such is the surprise, indignation, and disgrace, which accompany them. Similar observations might be made on public executions for robbery, forgery, tumults, assassinations, murders, &c. It is not among the circles professing a serious regard to Christianity, but among its adversaries, that these practices ordinarily prevail.
Some have been inclined to attribute various differences in these things to a difference in national character: but national character, as it respects morality, is formed very much from the state of society in different nations. A number of painful observations would arise from a view of the conduct and character of Englishmen on foreign shores. To say nothing of the rapacities committed in the East, whither is our boasted humanity fled when we land upon the coast of Guinea? The brutality with which millions of our fellow-creatures have been torn from their connexions, bound in irons, thrown into a floating dungeon, sold in the public markets, beaten, maimed, and many of them murdered, for trivial offences, and all this without any effectual restraint from the laws, must load our national character with everlasting infamy. These same persons, however, who can be guilty of these crimes at a distance, are as apparently humane as other people when they re-enter their native country. And wherefore? Because in their native country the state of society is such as will not admit of a contrary behavior. A man who should violate the principles of justice and humanity here, would not only be exposed to the censure of the laws, but, supposing he could evade this, his character would be lost. The state of society in Guinea imposes no such restraints; in that situation, therefore, wicked men will indulge in wickedness. Nor is it much otherwise in our West-India Islands. So little is there of Christianity in those quarters, that it has hitherto had scarcely any influence in the framing of their laws, or the forming of the public opinion. There are, doubtless, just and humane individuals in those islands; but the far greater part of them, it is to be feared, are devotees to avarice; to which, as to a Moloch, one or other of them are continually offering up human victims.
Vicious practices are commonly more prevalent in large and populous cities than in other places. Hither the worst characters commonly resort, as noxious animals to a covert from their purIn places but thinly inhabited, the conduct of individuals is conspicuous to the community: but here they can assemble with others of their own description, and strengthen each other's hands in evil, without much fear of being detected. Christianity, therefore, may be supposed to have less effect in the way of restraining immoral characters in the city, than in the country. Yet even here it is sensibly felt. The metropolis of our own nation, though it abounds with almost every species of vice, yet what reflecting citizen will deny that it would be much worse but for the influence of the gospel? As it is, there are numbers, of different religious denominations, who constantly attend to public and family worship; who are as honorable in their dealings as they are amiable in domestic life; and as liberal in their benefactions as they are assiduous to find out deserving cases. The influence which this body of men have upon the citizens at large, in restraining vice, promoting schemes of benevolence, and preserving peace and good order in society, is beyond calculation. But for their examples and unremitted exertions, London would be a Sodom in its guilt, and might be expected to resemble it in its punishment.
In country towns and villages it is easy to perceive the influence which a number of serious Christians will have upon the manners of the people at large. A few families in which the Bible is daily read, the worship of God performed, and a Christian conversation exemplified, will have a powerful effect. Whether characters of an opposite description regard their conduct, or not, their consciences favor it. Hence it is that one upright man, in a question of right and wrong, will often put to silence a company of the advocates of unrighteousness; and that three or four Christian families have been known to give a turn to the manners of a whole neighborhood.
In fine, let it be closely considered, whether a great part of that sobriety which is to be found among Deists themselves (as there are, doubtless, sober characters among Deists, and even among Atheists) VOL. III.