« PreviousContinue »
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.'ll
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.
De ira, Lib. 3. Cap. 15. p. m. 319.
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.' "†
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 continu ally 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 af fected 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.