« PreviousContinue »
How false Religion may do temporal Good. 429 was the shame of ill-doing, the love of equity and right itself BOOK V. a bar against all oppressions which greatness of power causeth; they which describe unto us any such estate of happiness amongst men, though they speak not of Religion, do notwithstanding declare that which is in truth her only working. For, if Religion did possess sincerely and sufficiently the hearts of all men, there would need no other restraint from evil. This doth not only give life and perfection to all endeavours wherewith it concurreth ; but what event soever ensue, it breedeth, if not joy and gladness always, yet always patience, satisfaction, and reasonable contentment of mind. Whereupon it hath been set down as an axiom of good experience, that all things religiously taken in hand are prosperously ended * ; because whether men in the end have that which religion did allow them to desire, or that which it teacheth them contentedly to suffer, they are in neither event unfortunate t.
(3-] But lest any man should here conceive, that it greatly skilleth not of what sort our religion be, inasmuch as heathens, Turks, and infidels, impute to religion a great part of the same effects which ourselves ascribe thereunto, they having ours in the same detestation that we theirs; it shall be requisite to observe well, how far forth there may be agreement in the effects of different religions. First, by the bitter strife which riseth oftentimes from small differences in this behalf, and is by so much always greater as the matter is of more importance; we see a general agreement in the secret opinion of men, that every man ought to embrace the religion which is true, and to shun, as hurtful, whatsoever dissenteth from it, but that most, which doth farthest dissent. The generality of which persuasion argueth, that God hath imprinted it by nature, to the end it might be a spur to our industry in searching and maintaining that religion, from which as to swerve in the least points is error, so the capital enemies thereof God hateth as his deadly foes, aliens, and, without repentance, children of endless perdition. Such therefore touching man's immortal state after this life are not likely to reap benefit by their religion, but to look for the clean
* Psalm i. 3.
ευσχημόνως φέρειν, και εκ των υπαρ+ Τον γαρ ώς αληθώς αγαθών και χόντων αει τα κάλλιστα πράττειν. čuopova nãoas oibueda ràs rúxas Arist. Ethic. lib. i. cap. 10. 13.
Ch. i. 3
430 Transmigration : Auspices : Swearing by Idols. ROOK V. contrary, in regard of so important contrariety between it
and the true religion.
Nevertheless, inasmuch as the errors of the most seduced this way
have been mixed with some truths, we are not to marvel, that although the one did turn to their endless woe and confusion, yet the other had many notable effects as touching the affairs of this present life. There were in these quarters of the world, sixteen hundred years ago, certain speculative men, whose authority disposed the whole religion of those times. By their means it became a received opinion, that the souls of men departing this life do flit out of one body into some other *. Which opinion, though false, yet entwined with a true, that the souls of men do never perish, abated the fear of death in them which were so resolved, and gave them courage unto all adventures.
The Romans had a vain superstitious custom, in most of their enterprises to conjecture beforehand of the event by certain tokens which they noted in birds, or in the entrails of beasts, or by other the like frivolous divinations. From whence notwithstanding as oft as they could receive any sign which they took to be favourable, it gave them such hope, as if their gods had made them more than half a promise of prosperous success. Which many times was the greatest cause that they did prevail, especially being men of their own natural inclination hopeful and strongly conceited, whatsoever they took in hand. But could their fond superstition have furthered so great attempts without the mixture of a true persuasion concerning the unresistible force of divine power?
Upon the wilful violation of oaths, execrable blasphemies, and like contempts, offered by deriders of religion even unto false gods, fearful tokens of divine revenge have been known to follow. Which occurrents the devouter sort did take for manifest arguments, that the gods whom they worshipped were of power to reward such as sought unto them, and would plague those that feared them not. In this they erred. For (as the wise man rightly noteth concerning such) it was not the power of them by whom they sware, but the vengeance of them that sinned, which punished the offences of the ungodly t. It was their hurt untruly to attribute so great power
* Cæs. de Bell. Gall. lib. vi. [c. 13.]
+ Wisd. xiv. 31.
Ch. i. 4,5.
The Profit of Doctrines believed depends on their Truth. 431 unto false gods. Yet the right conceit which they had, that rook v. to perjury vengeance is due, was not without good effect as touching the course of their lives, who feared the wilful violation of oaths in that respect.
And whereas we read so many of them so much commended, some for their mild and merciful disposition, some for their virtuous severity, some for integrity of life, all these were the fruits of true and infallible principles delivered unto us in the word of God as the axioms of our religion, which being imprinted by the God of nature in their hearts also, and taking better root in some than in most others, grew though not from yet with and amidst the heaps of manifold repugnant errors; which errors of corrupt religion had also their suitable effects in the lives of the selfsame parties.
[4.] Without all controversy, the purer and perfecter our religion is, the worthier effects it hath in them who steadfastly and sincerely embrace it, in others not. They that love the religion which they profess, may have failed in choice, but yet they are sure to reap what benefit the same is able to afford; whereas the best and soundest professed by them! that bear it not the like affection, yieldeth them, retaining it in that sort, no benefit. David was a man after God's own) heart*," so termed because his affection was hearty towards God. Beholding the like disposition in them which lived under him, it was his prayer to Almighty God, “O keep this “ for ever in the purpose and thoughts of the heart of this
peoplet.” But when, after that David had ended his days in peace, they who succeeded him in place for the most part followed him not in quality ; when those kings (some few excepted) to better their worldly estate, (as they thought,) left their own and their people's ghostly condition uncared for; by woful experience they both did learn, that to forsake the true God of heaven, is to fall into all such evils upon the face of the earth, as men either destitute of grace
may mit, or unprotected from above endure.
[5.] Seeing therefore it doth thus appear that the safety of all estates dependeth upon religion ; that religion unfeignedly loved perfecteth men's abilities unto all kinds of virtuous services in the commonwealth; that men's desire is in general * (1 Sam. xiii. 14.)
† i Chron. xxix. 18.
How Men come to affect Atheism.
The most ex. treme opposite to true religion, is
BOOK v. to hold no religion but the true; and that whatsoever gooi Ch. ii. 1.
effects do grow out of their religion, who embrace instead of the true a false, the roots thereof are certain sparks of the light of truth intermingled with the darkness of error, because no religion can wholly and only consist of untruths: we have reason to think that all true virtues are to honour true religion as their parent, and all well-ordered commonweals to love her as their chiefest stay.
II. They of whom God is altogether unapprehended are
but few in number, and for grossness of wit such, that they affected athe- hardly and scarcely seem to hold the place of human being.
These we should judge to be of all others most miserable, but that a wretcheder sort there are, on whom whereas nature hath bestowed riper capacity, their evil disposition seriously goeth about therewith to apprehend God as being not God. Where by it cometh to pass that of these two sorts of men, both godless, the one having utterly no knowledge of God, the other study how to persuade themselves that there is no such thing to be known. The * fountain and wellspring of which impiety is a resolved purpose of mind to reap in this world what sensual profit or pleasure soever the world yieldeth, and not to be barred from any whatsoever means available thereunto. And that this is the very radical cause of their atheism, no man I think will doubt which considereth what pains they take to destroy those principal spurs and motives unto all virtue, the creation of the world, the providence of God, the resurrection of the dead, the joys of the kingdom of heaven, and the endless pains of the wicked, yea above all things the authority of Scripture, because on these points it evermore beateth, and the soul's immortality, which granted, draweth easily after it the rest as a voluntary train. Is it not wonderful that base desires should so extinguish in men the sense of their own excellency, as to make them willing that their souls should be like to the souls of beasts, mortal and corruptible with their bodies? Till some admirable or unusual accident happen (as it hath in some) to work the beginning of a better alteration in their minds, disputation about the knowledge of
* Wisd. ü. 21.
“blinded them." "Eoti yap ń Kakia " they imagine and go astray, be- poaptıký åpxñs. Arist. Éth. lib.vi. “ cause their own wickedness hath cap. 5,6.
Ch. ii. 2.
Atheistical Scoffing ought to be penal.
433 God with such kind of persons commonly prevaileth little. BOOK V. For how should the brightness of wisdom shine, where the windows of the soul are of very set purpose closed * ? True religion hath many things in it, the only mention whereof galleth and troubleth their minds. Being therefore loth that inquiry into such matters should breed a persuasion in the end contrary unto that they embrace, it is their endeavour to banish as much as in them lieth quite and clean from their cogitation whatsoever may sound that way.
[2.] But it cometh many times to pass (which is their bu abido of: torment) that the thing they shun doth follow them, truth as Cemei's mere
Candasno it were even obtruding itself into their knowledge, and not permitting them to be so ignorant as they would be. Whereupon inasmuch as the nature of man is unwilling to continue doing that wherein it shall always condemn itself, they continuing still obstinate to follow the course which they have begun, are driven to devise all the shifts that wit can invent for the smothering of this light, all that may but with any the least show of possibility stay their minds from thinking that true, which they heartily wish were false, but cannot think it so without some scruple and fear of the contraryť.
Now because that judicious learning, for which we com- dvadese' mend most worthily the ancient sages of the world, doth not in this case serve the turn, these trencher-mates (for such the most of them be) frame to themselves a way more pleasant; a new method they have of turning things that are serious into mockery, an art of contradiction by way of scorn, a learning wherewith we were long sithence forewarned that the miserable times whereinto we are fallen should abound 1. This they study, this they practise, this they grace with a wanton superfluity of wit, too much insulting over the patience of more virtuously disposed minds.
For towards these so forlorn creatures we are (it must be confest) too patient. In zeal to the glory of God, Babylon hath excelled Siong. We want that decree of Nabuchodo
* Susan. ver. 9: “They turned agnoscere quem ignorare non pos
away their mind, and cast down sis. Cypr. de Idol. Vanit. [i. 15. “ their eyes, that they might not see ed. Fell.] “ heaven, nor remember just judg- * 2 Pet. iii. 3; Jude 18. “ ments.”
Ś Dan. iii. 29. † “ Hæc est summa delicti, nolle HOOKER, VOL. I.