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I. If you consider the taste, the discernment and choice of the people, of whom the prophet speaks, you will see, he had a great right to denominate them most brutish and foolish, What an excess must a man have attained, when he hates a religion without which he cannot but be miserable! Who, of the happiest of mankind, doth not want the succor of religion? What disgraces at court! What mortifications in the army! What accidents in trade! What uncertainty in science! What bitterness in pleasure! What injuries in reputation! What inconstancy in riches ! W
What disappointments in projects! What infidelity in friendship! What vicissitudes in fortune! Miserable man! What will support thee under so many calamities? What miserable comforters are the passions in these sad periods of life ! How inadequate is philosophy itself, how improper is Zeno, how unequal are all his followers to the task of calming a poor mortal, when they tell him ; “Misfortunes are inseparable froin o human nature. No man should think himself
exempt from any thing, that belongs to the con“ dition of mankind. If maladies be violent, they “ will be short; if they be long, they will be “ tolerable. A fatal necessity prevails over all «. mankind; complaints and regrets cannot change “ the order of things. A generous soul should be
superjor to all events, it should despise a tyrant,
defy fortune, and render itself insensible to “ pain.” Tolerable reflections in a book, plausible arguments in a public auditory! But weak reflections, vain arguments, in a bed of infirmity, while a man is suffering the pain of the gout, or the stone !
O! how necessary is religion to us in these fatal circumstances ! It speaketh to us in a manner infinitely more proper to comfort us under our heaviest
amictions ! Religion saith to you, Out of the mouth of the Most High proceedeth evil and good, Lam. iii. 38. He formeth light and createth darkness; he maketh peace, and createth evil, Isa: xlv. 7. Shall there be evil in the city, and the Lord hath not done it? Amos. j. 6. Religion tells you, that if God amict you it is for your own advantage ; it is, that, being uneasy on earth, you may take your flight toward heaven; that your light affliction, which is but for a moment, may work for you a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, 2 Cor. iv. 17. Religion bids you not to think it strange concerning the fiery trial, which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you, i Pet. iv. 12. but to believe, that the trial of your faith, being much more precious than that of gold, which perisheth, will be found unto praise, and honor, and glory, at the appearing of Jesus Christ, chap. i. 7.
But religion is above all necessary in the grand vicissitude, in the fatal point, to which all the steps of life tend, I mean, at the hour of death. For, at length, after we have rushed into all pleasures, after we have sung well, danced well, feasted well, we must die, we must die. And what, pray, except religion, can support a man, struggling with the king of terrors ? Job xviii. 14. A man, who sees his grandeur abased, his fortune distri-, buted, his connections dissolved, his senses benumbed, his grave dug, the world retiring from him, his bones hanging on the verge of the grave, and his soul divided between the horrible hope of sinking into nothing, and the dreadful fear of falling into the hands of an angry God.
In sight of these formidable objects, fall, fall ye bandages of infidelity! ye veils of obscurity and depravity! and let me perceive how necessary
religion is to man. It is that, which sweetens the
. bitterest of all bitters. It is that, which disarms the most invincible monster. It is that, which transformeth the most frightful of all objects, into an object of gratitude and joy. It is that, which calms the conscience, and confirms the soul. It is that, which presents to the dying believer another being another life, another æconomy, other objects, and other hopes. It is that, which, while the outward man perisheth, reneweth the inward man day by day, 2 Cor. iv. 16. It is that, which dissipates the horrors of the valley of the shadow of death, Psal. xxiii. 4. It is that, which cleaves the clouds in the sight of a departing Stephen; tells a converted thief, to-day shalt thou be in paradise, Luke xxiii. 43. and cries to all true penitents, Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord, Rev. xiv. 13,
II. Having taken the unbelieving libertine on his own interest, I take him on the public interest, and having attacked his taste, and discernment, I attack his policy. An infidel is a disturber of public peace, who, by undertaking to sap the foundations of religion, undermines those of society. Society cannot subsist without religion. If plausible objections may be formed against this proposition, it is because opponents have had the art of disguising it. To explain it, is to preclude the sophisms, which are objected against it. Permit us to lay down a few explanatory principles.
First. When we say, Society cannot subsist without religion, we do not comprehend in our proposition all the religions in the world. The proposition includes only those religions, which retain the fundamental principles, that constitute the base of virtue; as the immortality of the soul, a future
judgment, a particular Providence. We readily grant, there may be in the world a religion, worse than atheism: for example, any religion, that should command its votaries to kill, to assassinate, to betray. And, as we readily grant this truth to those, who take the pains to maintain it, so whatever they oppose to us, taken from the religions of pagans which were hurtful to society, is only vain declamation, that proves nothing against us.
Secondly. When we affirm, Society cannot subsist without religion, we do not pretend, that religion, which retains, articles safe to society, may not so mix those articles with other principles pernicious to it, that they may seem at first sight worse than atheism. We affirm only, that, to take the whole of such a religion, it is more advantageous to society to have it, than to be destitute of it. All, therefore, that is objected against our proposition concerning those wars, crusades, and persecutions, which were caused by superstition, all this is only vain sophistry, which doth not affect our thesis in the least.
Thirdly. When we say, Society cannot subsist without religion, we do not say, that religion, even the purest religion, may not cause some disorders in society : but we affirm only, that these disorders, however numerous, cannot counterbalance the benefits, which religion procures to it. So that all objections, taken from the troubles, which zeal for truth may have produced in some circumstances, are only vain objections, that cannot weaken our proposition.
Fourthly. When we affirm, Society cannot subsist without religion, we do not affirm, that all the virtues, which are displayed in society, proceed from religious principles; so that all just magistrates are just for their love of equity; that all
grave ecclesiastics are serious because they respect their character; that all chaste women are chaste from a principle of love to virtue : human motives, we freely grant, often prevail instead of better. We affirm only, that religious principles are infinitely more proper to regulate society than human motives. Many persons, we maintain, do actually govern their conduet by religious principles, and society would be incomparably more irregular, were there no religion in it. That list of virtues, therefore, which only education and constitution produce, doth not at all affect the principle, which we are endeavoring to establish, and he, who takes his objections from it, doth but beat the air.
Lastly. When we affirm, Society cannot subsist without religion, we do not say, that all atheists and deists ought therefore to abandon themselves to all sorts of vices : nor that they, who have embraced atheism, if indeed there have been any such, were always the most wicked of mankind. Many people of these characters, we own, lived in a regular manner. We affirm only, that irreligion, of itself, openeth a door to all sorts of vices; and that men are so formed, that their disorders would increase, were they to disbelieve the doctrines of the existence of a God, of judgment, and of Providence. All the examples, therefore, that are alledged against us, of a Diagoras, of a Theodorus, of a Pilny, of a Vanini, of some societies, real, or chimerical, who, it is pretended, lived regular lives without the aid of religion; all these examples, I say, make nothing against our hypothesis.
These explanations being granted, we maintain, that no politician can succeed in a design of uniting men in one social body without supposing the truth and reality of religion. For, if there be no religion,