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much." (Hist. Ang. ad an. 1257.)
Art. Dante, in Edin. Rev. No.
* Gio. Villani, B. x. Ch. xxxix. Michael Savonarola, ad an. 1292, 1299. Petri Abani conciliator, differentia, 10.
This curious observation was first made by Pico of Mirandola. See De Rerum Prænotatione, Sect. v.
Character of Louis XIV.
The intrusion of any popular voice was not likely to be tolerated in the reign of Louis XIV., a reign which has been so often celebrated as the zenith of warlike and literary splendour, but which has always appeared to me to be the consummation of whatever is afflicting, and degrading in the history of the human race. Talent seemed, in that reign, robbed of the conscious elevation, of the erect `and manly port, which is its noblest associate and its surest indication. The mild purity of Fenelon, the lofty spirit of Bossuet, the sublime fervour of Corneille, were confounded by the contagion of ignominious and indiscriminate servility. It seemed as if the " representative majesty" of the genius and intellect of man were prostrated before the shrine of a sanguinary and dissolute tyrant, who practised the corruption of courts without their mildness, and incurred the guilt of wars without their glory. His highest praise is to have supported the stage-trick of royalty with effect; and it is surely difficult to conceive any character more odious and despicable than that of a puny libertine, who, under the frown of a strumpet or a monk, issues the mandate that is to murder virtuous citizens, to desolate happy and peaceful hamlets, to wring agonizing tears from widows and orphans. Heroism has a splendour that almost atones for its excesses; but what shall we think of him, who, from the luxurious and dastardly security in which he wal lows at Versailles, issues with calm and cruel apathy his orders to butcher the Protestants of Languedoc, or to lay in ashes the villages of the Palatinate? On the recollection of such scenes, as a scholar I blush for the prostitution of letters; as a man I blush for the patience of humanity. Vindicia Gallica. (By Sir James Mackintosh.) 1792. 4th Ed. pp. 19-21.
"And Cambray, worthy of a happier doom,
"The virtuous slave of Louis and ge Rome."
On John xii. 31, 32. HAVE already observed, [see Mon. Repos. XIII. 265-269,] that these words contain an illustrious prediction of a great crisis shortly to take place in the state of the moral world that the whole system of Pagan idolatry, that empire of the prince of this world, should be extirpated; and mankind in general should embrace the gospel religion, and believe in Christ as the Saviour and Lord of all men: and that all this should be effected in consequence of our Lord's approaching death, by being lifted up on the cross, and his exaltation to glory. Let us attentively consider the words in this view. Every prediction of future events, which really happen accordingly, exhibits a more striking and convincing proof of Divine foreknowledge and agency, by how much less apparent probability there was, at the time of delivering the prediction, of such events taking place. If at the time there appeared little or no probability at all; but many and great improbabilities, difficulties and obstructions to the production of the thing foretold, were obvious and apparent; and yet the event succeeds, and suits exactly to the prediction, one finds onesself compelled to acknowledge the interposal of Him who foreseeth all things, and in whose hand are all times and events. Now let us examine the subject before us according to these principles, and endeavour to refer our thoughts back to the very times, and the state of things, which existed when this prediction was delivered, and make ourselves, as it were, a part of the multitude in whose hearing it was spoken. And 1. Let us consider the nature of the things foretold: from which, I apprehend, we shall see many and great difficulties arising against the event. Jesus here foretells, not a change of empire, the overthrow of that which was then established, and the rise of one not yet in being; nor does he foretell any extraordinary phenomena, or important events in the natural world: such
things as these had often happened before, and probably would happen again; and a person of superior skill in natural or political causes and effects, by his extraordinary sagacity and penetration, and by peculiarly accurate observations, might possibly have discovered a certain series, or chain of causes, already begun, and leading on to important future events in the natural or political world, which the rest of mankind might not then have discovered; but would af terwards observe, as they should begin to ripen towards the issue: and consequently, he might be able to foretell such events, without any assistances superior to human ability, only he was so fortunate as to be the first that discovered that train of causes and effects which brought on the events, and which others afterwards could trace as well as he.
But he foretells a general change, and a great improvement to be shortly made in the state of the moral world; that the universal prevalence of idolatry and dæmon-worship should be extirpated, and that a religion of pure worship of the one true God, a religion of truth, righteousness and virtue, should be generally established and embraced. Now, what probability of such events could at that time be discovered by any human sagacity or observation? Had there ever any events happened in the world of a like nature before? No, never. Was there ever any nation, which had once sunk into idolatry, that ever forsook their false gods, and became worshipers of the true God, or embraced a true religion? No, never. All history, till the time when Jesus delivered this prediction, affords not one such example-excepting only the Jews, and their case was peculiar, and the reasons of it more than human. Facts, till that time, universally had been thus; that every nation, which had once degenerated into idolatry, sunk deeper and deeper, but never reco. vered out of it. And every nation was at last overwhelmed in it, not one excepted throughout the known world.
The policy of princes, the arts of priests, and the inclinations of the people, all combined to support and propagate it; a combination, which nothing hitherto had been found able to break or to grapple with. Aud now Jesus foretells, that shortly idolatry should be extirpated, not in one nation, or a few only, but in general through the world. What probability or likelihood of such an event; an event unexampled-a thing which scarce any one had ever attempted or thought of? Besides, what sort of religion is it which Jesus foretells should be established and embraced in the room of idolatry? A religion that enjoins the worship of one God only, and he an invisible Spirit; with a worship founded in spirit and truth, consisting in the sentiments of the mind and dispositions of the heart, but destitute of every thing that may captivate the senses or allure a sensual mind. And was there any human likelihood, that, as things then stood, mankind in general would abandon their idols, the visible objects of their worship, and all their ceremonies, sacrifices and splendid rites; drive away their awful priests and pleasing musicians, neglect their religious crafts and festivals, their games and processions, and a thousand other enchanting things, for such a plain, spiritual and unattractive institution as this? Doth the universal experience of mankind through all ages promise any probability of it? Directly the reverse. I might add to this, that the idolatrous religions of the Gentiles laid no restraints upon, nay, indulged and encouraged all manner of lust, debauchery and intemperance; whereas the gospel religion absolutely forbade these things; and consequently, not only opposed the bodily senses of men, but the affections and prevailing dispositions of their hearts; which things, when duly considered, will shew that the improbabilities were extremely great and complicated, either that idolatry, which was so very convenient and complaisant to the lusts and passions of a corrupt world, should ever be suppressed; or that the gospel religion, which combated them so rudely, should ever be propagated with any considerable effect. It is observable,
that before the coming of Christ there had been some few attempts made in some few places to reform the morals of mankind, partly by lawgivers and patriot princes, partly by philosophers and moral writers; but with what success: Truly very little, and very short-lived; they had at first good effect on some few. Restraints were laid on the enormities of the people for a while. This engaged attention and admiration for a few years, and, perhaps, the applause of posterity; but soon the stream of corruption returned into its old channel with increased strength and rapidity: and yet the reformations then attempted, were nothing like so complete and universal as that which the gospel proposed and enjoined ou all mankind. But as to religion, scarce ever any attempt had been made to reform it, or to suppress idolatry any where through all the Gentile world. very few choice spirits arose indeed now and then; one or two, in several ages, who saw into the absurdity of it, and somehow gained some rational sentiments concerning the one true God, and the religion due to him, and who ventured to disclose their sentiments to the world.. But how were they received? With execration and abhorrence, as impious and atheistical wretches, enemies of the gods, for presuming to assert (as Demetrius expresseth it in the Acts) that those were no gods, which are made with hands; and fortunate were those of them, who escaped the cruel deaths which others suffered.
If we enter still more deeply into the subject, we shall see reason to conclude, from the nature of the things themselves, that it would be a much more practicable attempt to establish or overthrow the greatest empire that ever was on this globe, than to extirpate idolatry and false religion, and introduce true and rational religion into a single nation by any means nierely human. In the former case, human power and human policy have a full scope. A sufficient army of hardy veterans, expert in the arts and discipline of war, will go a great way: wise and experienced politicians, who know how to improve incidents, and to apply properly to the passions and inclinations of
mankind, to raise and conduct parties, &c., have mighty influence on human affairs; and both united, seem equal to the greatest undertakings. Here the instruments to work with may be gotten, and the matter to work upon is within your reach. But if you attempt to change the religion of a people, to extirpate, for instance, idolatry, and to introduce the true religion of the one God by merely human means, how will you effect it? Religion, whether true or false, is situated in the sentiments of men's minds, and in the affections of their hearts; and how will you come at these to take away some and introduce others? Idolatry and false religion are supported by erroneous sentiments, by false prejudices and corrupt dispositions; but how will you come at these to eradicate them, and to take away the foundations on which idolatry is built? Will you use power to suppress it, and enforce the practice of true religion? It is in vain: the spirits and consciences of men are like the elastic air, which you may compress, and may keep compressed, to a certain degree, by a proportionable force, but if any accident remove the pressure, it immediately expands with violence to its former or greater dimensions. In like manner, though tyrants may lay constraints on the consciences and religion of mankind, whatever be its quality, as soon as ever the death of the tyrants, or any other of the many accidents to which human power is subjected, delivers them from the constraint, they immediately return to the former practices with redoubled eagerness. One of the ancient monarchs of Persia, having conquered Egypt, demolished the temples, broke the images of the gods, and slew the sacred animals, and forbade the Egyptians to practise their ancient superstitions: this injunction was obeyed for some time; but as soon as a change of times and circumstances in the Persian government allowed, the old national religion was immediately restored in Egypt with great zeal. Yes, perhaps some will say, to attempt by external force to constrain the consciences and religious prac tices of men, is undoubtedly no less absurd than it is cruel, and will certainly prove unsuccessful in the end.
But let us apply directly to their understandings by reason and argument, and we cannot fail of succeeding to convince them of the folly of idolatry and false religion, and of the reasonableness and excellence of the true; or to persuade them to abandon the one and embrace the other. In this way it will certainly be very practicable, by merely human means to extirpate idolatry, and establish the true religion. Perhaps so, provided sound reason were the only governing principle of human determinations and actions; but the truth of facts decides it otherwise. Prejudices have a mighty influence over the generality of men; the senses, passions and appetites are their sovereign guides, and where all these concur, as they do in support of false religion, the voice of reason is little attended to, her clearest demonstrations are overruled, and strongest remonstrances neglected. This is not the only case in matters of religion, but in all the other concerns of human life. And if this be the true state of facts with the generality of mankind, as it certainly is; in vain will you prepare for them the best chain of reasoning, and study every art of address; they will hold fast their prejudices; they will listen to their passions and appetites, which your stoutest attacks of reason and argument can never come at or take away from them. They will reverence as sacred the customs of their ancestors, and regard their religious ceremonies and worship as their own birth right.
If you would carry your point, in favour of truth and reason, with men who are under the influence of prejudice and sensual passions and lusts, you must present unto them motives which they themselves shall feel to be of greater importance in themselves, and which shall operate on their hearts more powerfully than the ob jects which have hitherto attracted their attention and regards-motives which shall arrest and overpower their affections and passions, expel their prejudices, and dissolve the enchautment by which their souls were captivated. But what motives of this powerful quality do you expect humau reasoning and argumentation alone will furnish you with? may even despair.
But observe; in opposition to the argument I am endeavouring to establish, I cannot admit of any instances of the propagation of Christianity in any Pagan country, as proofs of the probability or practicability of extirpating idolatry and false religion, and of establishing the worship of the one true God, by human means only all these instances are our own property, and plead in our cause. In all these cases the influence of this prediction of our Saviour operated. Christianity attacks idolatry, and recommends itself by arguments, which human reason alone could never discover; and supports those arguments with evidences, which human reason could never produce; and is attended with the secret energy of a power, which human reason could never pretend to. All I aim at, at present, is only to shew, that from the best knowledge we are capable of gaining of the state of mankind, at and before the time when this prediction was delivered, and from the exactest observations on human nature, and the ordinary course of human affairs, there appears little probability, yea, many and great improbabilities, and scarcely a possibility, that the events foretold in this prediction should have been effected by any merely human means; that nothing like them had ever been done in the world before; and one cannot discover by what human means they could be effected: from whence it will follow, that if Jesus, who delivered this prediction, and undertook these things, had depended only upon human abilities, he must, in all likelihood, most certainly have miscarried, and his prediction failed. I shall only add, by way of confirmation of the observation I made above, that as the state of the world then stood, it was much more practicable to overthrow, and to establish the greatest empire that ever was on the globe, than to suppress idolatry, and reform the religion of a single people by mere human means. Two examples of facts, which happened a few centuries before our Saviour's time: Alexander set out from Macedon with about 33,000 men, to attack the vast, populous and wealthy empire of Persia. The enterprise was daring and hazardous, and had he, at his departure, publicly declared, by way of prediction, "With
these forces I will certainly overthrow the Persian empire, and establish my dominion over all its numerous and extensive provinces," the declaration would justly have been accounted rash and arrogant; yet he had several fair probabilities on his side: partly from his own military and political skill, and the experience, intrepidity and discipline of his veteran commanders and troops, and partly from the degeneracy of the Persians. In fact, he acccomplished his undertaking, overturned the Persian, and established the Macedonian empire. On the other hand, Socrates attempted to reform the morals of the people of Athens, and to introduce amongst them some juster sentiments in religion; a very honest and laudable design, in which he had some apparent probabilities and means of success, in his own great knowledge, engaging way of reasoning, and in the friendship and support of several of the principal persons of the city. Had he at the first presumed to foretell, "I will certainly reform the manners and improve the religion of the people of Athens," or had he delivered any thing like this prediction of Christ in the text, how shamefully would he have been disappointed and confuted by the event! For, in fact, though Socrates did not pretend to set aside the idolatrous worship then practised, and to establish the spiritual worship of the one true God only, but merely endeavoured to introduce gradually a few juster sentiments concerning the Deity and religion, the people took the alarm; he was dragged to the tribunal, accused of subverting the established religion; and Socrates, though still a Heathen, and worshiper of idols himself, was condemned and executed by a decree of the people, out of zeal and jealousy for the support of idolatry.
Thus I have endeavoured to shew, that if we attentively consider the nature of the things themselves, and the generally-prevailing principles of human nature, there will appear no probability, but many and great improbabilities, that the events foretold in this prediction, should ever have taken place by any human means.