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country, any considerable number of men were found to have had*.”
After all, the value of Christianity is not to be appreciated by its temporal effects. The object of revelation is to influence human conduct in this life ; but what is gained to happiness by that influence, can only be estimated by taking in the whole of human existence. Then, as hath already been observed, there may be also great consequences of Christianity, which do not belong to it as a revelation. The effects upon human salvation, of the mission, of the death, of the present, of the future agency of Christ, may be universal, though the religion be not universally known.
Secondly, I assert that Christianity is charged with many consequences, for which it is not responsible. I believe that religious motives have had no more to do in the formation of nine tenths of the intolerant and persecuting laws, which in different countries have been established upon the subject of religion, than they have had to do in England with the making of the game laws. These measures, although they have the Christian religion for their subject, are resolvable into a principle which Christianity certainly did not plant (and which Christianity could not universally condemn, because it is not universally wrong), which principle is no other than this, that they who are in possession of power do what they can to keep it. Christianity is answerable for no part of the mischief which has been brought upon the world by persecution, except that which has arisen from conscientious persecutors.--Now these perhaps have never been, either numerous, or powerful. Nor is it to Christianity that even their mistake can fairly be imputed. They have been misled by an errour not properly Christian or religious, but by an errour in their moral phi
* Clarke, Ey. Nat. Rev. p. 208. ed. v.
losophy. They pursued the particular, without adverting to the general consequence.
Believing certain articles of faith, or a certain mode of worship, to be highly conducive, or perhaps essential to salvation, they thought themselves bound to bring all they could, by every means, into them.
And this they thought, without considering what would be the effect of such a conclusion, when adopted amongst mankind as a general rule of conduct. Had there been in the New Testament, what there are in the Koran, precepts authorizing coercion in the propagation of the religion, and the use of violence towards unbelievers; the case would have been different. This distinction could not have been taken, nor this defence made.
I apologize for no species nor degree of persecution, but I think that even the fact has been exaggerated. The slave trade destroys more in a year, than the Inquisition does in a hundred, or perhaps hath done since its foundation.
If it be objected, as I apprehend it will be, that Christianity is chargeable with every mischief, of which it has been the occasion, though not the motive; I answer, that, if the malevolent passions be there, the world will never want occasions. The noxious element will always find a conductor. Any point will produce an explosion. Did the applauded intercommunity of the pagan theology preserve the peace of the Roman world ? did it prevent oppressions, proscriptions, massacres, devastations ? Was it bigotry that carried Alexander into the East, or brought Cæsar into Gaul ? Are the nations of the world, into which Christianity hath not found its way, or from which it hath been banished, free from contentions? Are their contentions less ruinous and sanguinary? Is it owing to Christianity, or to the want of it, that the finest regions of the East, the countries inter quatuor maria, the peninsula of Greece, together with a great part of the Mediterranean coast, are at this day
a desert? or that the banks of the Nile, whose constantly renewed fertility is not to be impaired by neglect, or destroyed by the ravages of war, serve only for the scene of a ferocious anarchy, or the supply of unceasing hostilities. Europe itself has known no religious wars for some centuries, yet has hardly ever been without war. Are the calamities, which at this day afflict it, to be imputed to Christianity ? Hath Poland fallen by a Christian crusade ? Hath the overthrow in France, of civil order and security, been effected by the votaries of our religion, or by the foes ? Amongst the awful lessons, which the crimes and the miseries of that country afford to mankind, this is one, that, in order to be a persecutor, it is not necessary to be a bigot: that in rage and cruelty, in mischief and destruction, fanaticism itself can be outdone by infidelity.
Finally, If war, as it is now carried on between nations, produce less misery and ruin than formerly, we are indebted perhaps to Christianity for the change, more than to any other cause.
Viewed therefore even in its relation to this subject, it appears to have been of advantage to the world. It hath humanized the conduct of wars ; it hath ceased to excite them.
The differences of opinion, that have in all ages prevailed amongst Christians, fall very much within the alternative which has been stated. If we, possessed the disposition which Christianity labours, above all other qualities, to inculcate, these differences would do little harm. If that dis position be wanting, other causes, even were these absent, would continually rise up, to call forth the malevolent passions into action. 'Differences of opinion, when accompanied with mutual charity, which Christianity forbids them to violate, are for the most part innocent, and for some purposes useful. They promote inquiry, discussion, and knowledge. They help to keep up an attention to religious
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subjects, and a concern about them, which might be apt to die away in the calm and silence of universal agreement. I do not know that it is in any degree true, that the influence of religion is the greatest, where there are the fewest dissenters.
IN religion, as in
every other subject of human reasoning, much depends upon the order in which we dispose our inquiries. A man who takes up a system of divinity with a previous opinion that either every part must be true, or the whole false, approaches the discussion with great disadvantages. No other system, which is founded upon moral evidence, would bear to be treated in the same manner. Nevertheless, in a certain degree, we are all introduced to our religious studies under this prejudication. And it cannot be avoided. The weakness of the human judgment in the early part of youth, yet its extreme susceptibility of impression, renders it necessary to furnish it with some opinions, and with some principles, or other. Or indeed, without much express care, or much endeavour for this purpose, the tendency of the mind of man to assimilate itself to the habits of thinking and speaking which prevail around him, produces the same effect. That indifferency and suspense, that waiting and equilibrium of the judgment, which some require in religious matters, and which some would wish to be aimed at in the conduct of education, are impossible to be preserved. They are not given to the condition of human life.
It is a consequence of this situation that the doctrines of religion come to us before the proofs ; and come to us with
that mixture of explications and inferences from which no publick creed is, or can be, free. And the effect which too frequently follows, from Christianity being presented to the understanding in this form, is, that when any articles, which appear as parts of it, contradict the apprehension of the
persons to whom it is proposed, men of rash and confident tempers hastily and indiscriminately reject the whole. But is this to do justice, either to themselves, or to the religion? The rational way of treating a subject of such acknowledged importance is to attend, in the first place, to the general and substantial truth of its principles, and to that alone. When we once feel a foundation ; when we once perceive a ground of credibility in its history, we shall proceed with safety to inquire into the interprétation of its records, and into the doctrines which have been deduced from them. Nor will it either endanger our faith, or diminish or alter our motives for obedience, if we should discover that these conclusions are formed with very different degrees of probability, and possess very different degrees of importance.
This conduct of the understanding, dictated by every rule of right reasoning, will uphold personal Christianity, even in those countries in which it is established under forms the most liable to difficulty and objection. It will also have the further effect of guarding us against the prejudices which are wont to arise in our minds to the disadvantage of religion, from observing the numerous controversies which are carried on amongst its professors ; and likewise of inducing a spirit of lenity and moderation in our judgment, as well as in our treatment of those who stand, in such controversies, upon sides opposite to ours. What is clear in Christianity, we shall find to be sufficient, and to be infinitely valuable; what is dubious, unnecessary to be decided, or of very subordinate importance; and what is most obscure,