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gate Christianity had greater effect out of Judea than in it. On the whole matter, it is impossible to conceive, on grounds of human reason, to what purpose a divine eccnomy, relative to the coming of Christ, should have confined the knowledge of the true God to the Jews, and have left the rest of mankind without God in the world. On the other side, if men discovered the Creator of all things by their observations and their reasonings, things must have passed much as the memorials of ancient times give us grounds to believe that they did pass. The knowledge of the true God must have been uncertainly propagated, and uncertainly maintained; it must have been never lost, but always liable to be darkened by too much ignorance and stupidity in some, and too much imaginary knowledge, and the endless refinements of opinion in others.
That our Savior found the whole world in a state of error concerning this first principle of natural religion, though not of absolute darkness, is allowed; and that the spreading of Christianity has contributed to destroy polytheism and idolatry is true. But that which Mr. Locke advances to have been the consequence of this great event is not true. It is not true, that God has been made known to the world by this revelation, with such evidence and energy, that polytheism and idolatry have been no where able to withstand it. On the contrary, orthodox theism has not prevailed in some countries where it has been taught. In others, Christianity has been established on the ruins of polytheism and idolatry, and has been rooted up again in its turn. Revelation has not better success than reason. Neither has been able to preserve the purity of the doctrines they taught, nor a uniformity in the practice they prescribed. Nay Mahometism, a religion instituted by an Arabian free booter, who imposed himself for a prophet of God, and composed that extravagant rhapsody of superstition and enthusiasm the Koran, has been further propagated than Christianity and that not by the sword alone, no more than Christianity. Mahomet and the first caliphs established their religion by the success and terror of their arms. But since that time it has been extended by spiritual conquests, and not only the conquered, but the conquerors, for such the Turks were, have embraced it. Christ, his apostles, and the first preachers of Christianity, established this religion by their miracles, and by their sufferings. But since that time it has been propagated and preserved by violence as great at least, as that which the Saracens employed to establish the other. But however and by what means soever, these religions have been extended, that of Mahomet has taught the unity of God in terms so clear, and so precise, as to leave no room for any opinions that may be so much as strained into polytheism; and has so effectually banished all kinds of images, that the most gross and superstitious of the vulgar cannot have the least occasion of sliding into idolatry.
Christ found the world in darkness and error. But if he was to come again, would he not find it in the same state? Would he find even the religion he came to establish, either practised, or even taught in its genuine purity? Would he not find the decalogue shortened, and the creed lengthened, by some Christians? Would he not find the creed shortened by others, who left the decalogue of the same size, even by Mr. Locke himself? Christianity has been from the institution of it in a perpetual flux, not relatively to certain opinions alone, that may be deemed indifferent, or not quite essential; but relatively to fundamental articles, on which the whole system leans. Let me produce one instance, which will illustrate, and confirm, what has been said against those who take so much pains to make us believe, that polytheism and idolatry prevailed among the nations of the world from the beginning. Arianism had very nearly prevailed in the Christian church. It was all that intrigue could do to check, and all that wars and persecutions, wherein millions perished, could do to extirpate this heresy. Let us suppose now that these salutary methods had proved ineffectual, and that the orthodox faith was at this time creeping about in corners, as the Arian faith actually is, and was preserved only by a few rational and thinking men, who were fain, in their outward profession and worship, to go with the herd, and to keep to the religion established by law: I ask, would it be fair to conclude, that the orthodox faith had never been the faith of the Christian church, and that this abominable heresy had been established from the beginning? It would not be so most certainly. To recapitulate therefore, and to conclude: I think it plain, that the knowledge and worship of the one true God must have been the religion of mankind for a long time, if the Mosaical history be authentic, and was not therefore confined from the beginning to the family of Sem, nor to the Israelites who pretended to be of it. I think it plain, that the assumed confinement of this orthodox faith and worship could answer no imaginable design of a divine economy, preparatory to the coming of Christ; since the Jews, who had it, were not better prepared than the Gentiles, who are said not to have had it, to receive and embrace the gospel; and since this doctrine was propagated much more by heathen philosophers than by Jewish doctors. I think it plain, that if we suppose the unity of God to have been discovered by reason, and to have been propagated by human authority merely, the belief of it must have gone through all the vicissitudes, and have been exposed to all the corruptions that appear to have attended it. I add, that we have the less reason to be surprised at this, or to doubt of it, since we see that very faith, which God himself came on earth to publish, which was confirmed by miracles, and recorded by divine inspiration, subject to the same vicissitudes, and the same corruptions.
ESSAY THE FOURTH:
AUTHORITY IN MATTERS OF RELIGION.
All men are apt to have a high conceit of their own understandings, and to be tenacious of the opinions they profess; and yet almost all men are guided by the understandings of others, not by their own, and may be said more truly to adopt, than to beget, their opinions. Nurses, parents, pedagogues, and after them all, and above them all, that universal pedagogue custom, fill the mind with notions which it had no share in framing, which it receives as passively, as it receives the impressions of outward objects, and which, left to itself, it would never have framed perhaps, or would have examined afterwards. Thus prejudices are established by education, and habits by custom. We are taught to think what others think, not how to think for ourselves; and whilst the memory is loaded, the understanding remains unexercised, or exercised in such trammels as constrain its motions and direct its pace, till that which was artificial becomes in some sort natural, and the mind can go no other.
Wrong notions, and false principles, begot in this manner by authority, may be called properly enough the bastards of the mind; and yet they are nursed and preserved by it as if they were the legitimate issue; nay they are even deemed to be so by the mind itself. The mind grows fond of them accordingly, and this mistaken application of self-love makes men zealous to defend and propagate them by the same kind of authority, and by every other sort of imposition. Thus they are perpetuated, and as they contract the rust of antiquity they grow to be more respected. The fact that was delivered at first on very suspicious testimony, becomes indisputable; and the opinion that was scarce problematical becomes a demonstrated proposition. Nor is this at all wonderful. We look at original, through intermediate authority, and it appears greater and better than it is really, just as objects of sight are sometimes magnified by a hazy medium.Men who would have been deemed ignorant, or mad, or kna vish, if they had been our cotemporaries, are reverenced as prodigies of learning, of wisdom, and of virtue, because they lived many centuries ago. When their writings come down to posterity, posterity might judge indeed of their characters on better grounds than report and tradition: but the same authority which showed them in a half light, screens them in a full one. Paraphrases and commentaries accompany their writings. Their mistakes are excused, their contradictions are seemingly reconciled, their absurdities are varnished over, their puerilities are represented as marks of a most amiable simplicity, their enthusiastical rants as the language of the most sublime genius, or even of inspiration; and as this is frequently done with much skilful plausibility, so it is always aided by the strong prepossessions that have been created in their favor. The first traditional authorities that handed down fantastic science, and erroneous opinions, might be no better than the original authorities that imposed them. But they were sufficient for the time; and when error had once taken root deeply in the minds of men, though knowledge increased, and reason was better cultivated, yet they served principally to defend and embellish it, Truths, that have been discovered in the most enlightened ages and countries, have been by such means as these so blended with the errors of the darkest, that the whole mass of learning, which we boast of at this hour, must be separated, and sifted at great expense, like the ore of a poor mine; and like that too, will hardly pay the costs.
It may sound oddly, but it is true in many cases, to say, that if men had learned less, their way to knowledge would be shorter and easier. It is indeed shorter and easier to proceed from ignorance to knowledge, than from error. They who are in the last, must unlearn before they can learn to any good purpose; and the first part of this double task is not in many respects the least ditficult, for which reason it is seldom undertaken. The vulgar, under which denomination we must rank, on this occasion, almost all the sons of Adam, content themselves to be guided by vulgar opinions. They know little, and believe much. They examine and judge for themselves in the common affairs of life sometimes, and not always even in these. But the greatest and the noblest objects of the human mind are very transiently, at best, the objects of theirs. On all these, they resign themselves to the authority that prevails among the men with whom they live. Some of them want the means, all