« PoprzedniaDalej »
- more efficient than the most philosophical deist ever discovered.
Every thing contrary to this description is so far contrary to the very end of Christianity. No countenance is given in the Bible to persecutions, religious wars or massacres, pious frauds or imprecations : indeed all such things are condemned more severely in it than in any other book in the world. The judgments of God on his impenitent enemies, executed by men expressly commissioned, have nothing to do with our general conduct; but to inspire us with abhorrence of sin, which thus provokes a God of infinite goodness and mercy. The whole scripture teaches us meekness and love of persecutors ; love expressed even by suffering or dying for them, if that could save them from destruction.—Excommunication denotes no more than exclusion from religious ordinances and societies, to preserve them pure, and to make the censured person ashamed, that he may be brought to repentance: for we are required “not to count “ him as an enemy, but to admonish him as a “ brother:” and, if any penal consequences followed in the primitive times, they were miraculous, and consequently cannot be imitated by us.
The system of Christianity tends to expand the heart into the most enlarged and disinterested benevolence that can be conceived: and its effects have been prodigious, notwithstanding abuses and declension from primitive purity, zeal, and simplicity. The gladiatorial shews, in which thousands of lives were sacrificed to amuse Roman ladies, as well as more vulgar citizens, were never abolished till Christianity prevailed against them. Hospitals and Infirmaries, either wholly or in great measure, owe their origin to the same powerful cause. In vain you search for them in heathen nations, ancient or modern, or in pagan moralists. The humanity exercised even in war for some centuries past, compared with the savage cruelty of ancient times, is the effect of Christian principles. That change of sentiments also, which has taken place in respect to the glory or disgrace due to conquerors; and the very extensive protest made against the abominable slave-trade, and against the iniquity of slavery itself when not the punishment of atrocious crimes ; are wholly the result of scriptural principles. And the circumstances attending the late bloody scenes in France and elsewhere, when the actors were bent on crushing Christianity, prove in what their success would have terminated. That more, immensely more, has not been done, is owing, not to Christianity, but to the corruption of it by numbers, the rejection of it by others, and the neglect of it by the greater part of the inhabitants of the earth,
All, therefore, which Mr. P. has alleged on this subject, owes its plausibility to his uniform method of blaming Christianity for those very abuses which it most severely reprobates ; and of confounding the primitive church with the corrupted churches of subsequent ages; or the gospel with popery; which are in most respects as opposite as light and darkness. Yet even corrupted Christianity may be slandered ; and it does not appear that it is justly chargeable with that declension in science, which took place after the times of Christ, and issued in barbarous ignorance. Learning had very
much declined before Christianity had produced any great effects on the mass of mankind, and before it had at all influenced the Roman and Grecian scholars : and, if afterwards superstition was inimical to science, churchmen almost alone preserved some remains of it, and were the chief instruments of at length effecting a revival. Vigilius and Galileo indeed were endangered by popish superstition and bigotry for their discoveries in philosophy: but they were professed Christians, and one of them a churchman.
It is certain that the Bible does not discountenance natural knowledge, preserved in due subordination to revealed truth. “The works of the “ Lord are great, sought out of all them that have “ pleasure therein.”l—It throws no impediment. in the way of improvement in any kind of useful knowledge: though it discourages presumptuous speculations, and exposes the folly of self-wisdom, insatiable curiosity, and vain reasonings about matters too deep for us. For “ to man it is said, “ Behold, the fear of the Lord that is wisdom, and “ to depart from evil that is understanding."2
True Christianity was never propagated by the sword. When Peter in his impetuosity smote Malchus, our Lord reproved him, and miraculously healed the wound which he had given : and on a former occasion, when the disciples wanted to call down fire from heaven on the Samaritans, he rebuked them and said, “ Ye know not what man“ ner of spirit ye are of; for the Son of man is not “ come to destroy men's lives, but to save them.”
-I am not concerned to vindicate all that Christians have done, but merely what Christ hath enjoined: and whoever at any time hath used violent measures in promoting the gospel, let him stand condemned, as acting in diametrical opposition to his instructions. It is a certain fact, that the primitive Christians prevailed without using any such methods : but if they had propagated Christianity, as Mohammed did his imposture, by war and rapine, I would have maintained this distinction; that he acted according to the principles laid down in the Koran, but they in express opposition to the precepts and principles of the gospel. His religion therefore was justly chargeable with the conduct which it sanctioned and required : Christianity would not have been answerable for the base conduct of those who acted against its plain commands; but they alone ought to have borne the blame.
Mr. P. calls the precepts of the scripture ' frag'ments of morality.'! But in what other book shall we find so complete and perfect a system of man's duty in all respects, enforced with such authority, and such powerful sanctions? He says, “These fragments are irregularly and thinly scattered
through these books, and make no part of re'vealed religion !' But was not the law delivered in the most solemn manner from Mount Sinai? and does it not virtually contain our whole duty to God and man: Our Lord says, “ Thou shalt “ love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and “ with all thy soul, and with all thy mind: this is
“ the first and great commandment. And the “ second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy “ neighbour as thyself. On these two command“ments hang all the law and the prophets.") Surely then these form a very important part of revealed religion, on which all the rest depends. Are they not the rule, the transgression of which is called sin ? and is not sin spoken of as deserving punishment, requiring repentance, and needing forgiveness : Does not the scripture speak every where of Christ as coming to magnify the law, and make atonement for sin ? Is it not promised that this law shall be written in the heart of all the true people of God? Is not this law enforced in its various requirements, as branched out into many particular precepts, on all Christians, with the most earnest admonitions and exhortations ? Are not“ the fruits of the Spirit” coincident with the demands of the law ? and is it not said, that, “ if 5 any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is “ none of his ?”
The comprehensive requirements of the law, as unfolded in the precepts of scripture, especially in our Lord's sermon on the mount, and the exhortations in the apostolical epistles, have before been noted. Let the disciples of Mr. P. shew what moral duty is omitted in these sacred records. Though not systematical, they are complete : yet the diligent student alone can know this. Nothing is indeed directly spoken of friendship, and patriotism, and other virtues extolled in heathen moralists : but will these virtues bear even a philoso
Matt. xxiii. 37-40.