Page images
PDF
EPUB

"place unto wrath; to recompense to no man " evil for evil; to be of one accord, of one "mind, of one heart, and of one soul*."

These are evidently the sacred fountains from whence the various streams of benevolence, which, in Christian countries, now refresh and exhilarate the earth, have taken their rise. And if our philosophers can shew, that they have added one iota to the original stock of benevolence to be found in the Gospel, or advanced one single humane sentiment which is not either expressly or virtually comprehended in the Christian Revelation, they may then be allowed to arrogate some praise to themselves, on the score of their philanthropy. But till they can prove this, the claim of Christianity to all those happy changes in the face of human affairs, which have been here specified, stands unimpaired.

When our blessed Lord enjoins his disciples to love one another, he gave them what might well be called, A NEW COMMANDBefore that time we have seen, that many of the most essential articles of social

MENT.

in

Titus iii. 2. Rom. xii. 17. 19. Phil. ii. 2.

life,

life, the predominant principle and practice of mankind was to hate and devour one another. His was the first complete code of humanity that was ever given to the world. THE GREAT ROYAL LAW OF CHARITY, which this Divine Legislator enacted, has never yet been improved upon by all the florid declamations of modern philosophers on the fashionable topic of benevolence. They can only, at the best, have the praise of ingenious and eloquent expositors; the true original text, to which we owe every thing of this sort, is the Gospel.

3. That this is a just and well-grounded conclusion, will appear, beyond all doubt, from an appeal to history and to fact. We find, that besides the silent and gradual influence of Christianity on the minds and manners of men, the first efforts that were made, and the first laws that were enacted, to restrain and check, and in several instances to annihilate at once, some of the most frightful inhumanities above mentioned, were the acts of Christian princes, and Christian legislators.

With respect to paternal power, the first Christian emperor, in order to prevent the destruction

destruction of grown children by their father, (a practice at that time too frequent) very wisely and humanely ordained, that the public should maintain the children of those who were unable to provide for them*.

In the year 319, he put an effectual stop to this horrible practice by making it a capital offence, and even affixing to it the punishment denounced against parricidest.

The exposure of infants, however, still prevailed. This he also restrained by an edict,. in the year 331; and under the emperors Valentinian, Valens, and Gratian, this crime was made a capital offence +.

Another branch of domestic tyranny, perpetual servitude, was, as a learned civilian observes, greatly discountenanced by the Christian Religion; and about the twelfth or thirteenth century," when ecclesiastical legislation was at its height, is dated the extinction of slavery in Europe§."

[merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small]

§ Taylor, p. 435. Pope Alexander the Third declared, in the name of his council, that all Christians ought to be exempt from servitude. That law alone (says an historian not much disposed to speak well of

The first edict against gladiatorial shows, was by a Christian emperor; and Honorius afterwards completed what Constantine had begun. This horrid exhibition was by his laws finally abolished *.

To this we may add, that the savage punishment of crucifixion was also put an end to by Constantine †.

In these instances (and more might be produced) we see that some of the greatest miseries which oppressed mankind in the heathen world, were actually removed by the laws and edicts of CHRISTIAN RULERS. Here, then, there can be no doubt that the happy effects of these laws are to be ascribed solely and exclusively to the beneficent spirit of

any Christian legislator) ought to render his name dear to all the people of the earth. Volt. Un. Hist. vol. xx. p. 266. Ed. Amst. 12mo. 1764.

* Hist. of the Decline of the Roman Empire, vol. iii. p. 157. Jortin's Eccles. Rem. vol. iii. p. 220.

+ Ib. p. 219.

Even in the dark ages of popery, the wars of contending princes, and powerful lords, were frequently checked, and the fierceness of the times greatly mitigated by the authority, the remonstrances, and the influence of the clergy; particularly by what was called the TRUCE OF GOD, and other benevolent devices of that nature. Robertson's Charles V. vol. i. pp. 54. 64, 335, 336. 338.

[ocr errors]

of that heavenly religion, which meliorated the heart, and humanized the dispositions of those who made them. And we are therefore warranted in concluding, that many of the other great improvements in civil, social, and domestic life, which render our situation so infinitely superior to that of the ancient, as well as to the modern pagan world, are to be attributed to the operation of the same powerful cause.

If this important truth stood in need of any further confirmation, it is to be found in the confessions of those who are either the avowed enemies of Christianity, or at least have no unreasonable prejudices in its favour, to mislead their judgment.

and ge

They acknowledge, that "the pure nuine influence of Christianity, may be traced in its beneficial, though imperfect effects, on the barbarian proselytes of the north;" and that on the fall of the Roman empire, it evidently mollified the ferocious temper of the conquerors*.

They acknowledge, that Constantine acted the part of a sound politician, in affording Christianity

* Decline of the Roman Empire, vol. iii. p. 633.

« PreviousContinue »