Obrazy na stronie

66 Depart, then, christian soul! once marked with the seal of salvation which you have effaced; redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ, whom you have trampled under foot; purified by the grace of regeneration, which you have a thousand times stained; enlightened by the beams of the gospel which you have uniformly rejected; loaded with all the tender mercies of heaven, which you have always unworthily profaned.' •Depart christian soul! go, and carry before Jesus Christ that august title, which should have been the illustrious signet of your salvation, but which now constitutes the seal of

your condemnation.' “The expiring sinner, then finding in the remembrance of the past, naught but agonizing regret-in all which takes place around him, naught but images which afflict him—in the thoughts of futurity, naught but horrors which appal him—can look nowhere for relief or consolation-not to created beings, for he must now leave them-not to the world, for it now vanishes from before him-not to his fellow mortals, for they cannot possibly protect him from the arrest of death-not to an infinitely just God whom he has rendered an avowed enemy, and from whom he has therefore nought but vengeance to expect: a thousand horrors occupy his thoughts—he writhes in agony, vainly endeavouring to elude the grasp of death, or to escape if possible from himself. The frenzy of his soul is awfully depicted in his agitated countenance. His exclamations, rendered unintelligible by interrupting sobs, may be equally the dictates of repentance and despair-the convulsions which agitate his frame must be attributed not merely to the natural pangs of dissolution, but to the struggles of the soul, against the approaching interview with its judge. He sighs! he groans! but whether through contrition for his past crimes, or despair of the mercy of heaven, can not be ascertained. At length his eyes fix, his features change, his countenance becomes disfigured, his livid lips convulsively separate, his whole frame quivers, and his distracted soul is torn reluctantly from the bociy-hurried into the presence of Almighty God,mand stands trembling and alone at the foot of his awful tribunal.

“Thus, my brethren, do those expire who disregard and disobey their Creator during life--and thus shall you yourselves die, if your crimes thus accompany you to the bed of death,

“Every thing will assume a new aspect; but your consciousness of identity shall remain unchangeable--you shall die--and you shall dic as you have lived, polluted, deformed, and degraded by sin. O! brethren, avoid this misery-live the life of the righteous; and your death, like theirs, will be peaceful, consolatory, and triumphant."

Massillon, Serm. 10. The exemplification of Forensic Eloquence, to which I solicit your attention, is a part of Mr. Erskine's speech, on the trial of Thomas Williams, for the publication of Paine's “ Age of Reason,” before lord Kenyon and a special jury, July 24th, 1797.

“ This publication appears to me to be as mischievous and cruel in its probable effects, as it is manifestly illegal in its principles; because it strikes at the best, sometimes, alas ! the only refuge, and consolation amidst the distresses and afflictions of the world. The poor and humble, whom it affects to pity, may be stabbed to the heart by it. They have more occasion for firm hopes beyond the grave, than those who have greater comforts to render life delightful. I can conceive a distressed, but virtuous man, surrounded by children, looking up to him for bread, when he has none to give them, sinking under the last day's labour, and unequal to the next, yet still looking up with confidence to the hour when all tears shall be wiped from the eyes of affliction, bearing the burden laid upon him by a mysterious Providence which he adores, and looking forward with exultation to the revealed promises of his Creator, when he shall be greater than the greatest, and happier than the happiest of mankind. What a change in such a mind might be wrought by such a merciless publication ? Gentlemen, whether these remarks are the overcharged declamations of an accusing counsel, or the just reflections of a man anxious for the public freedom, which is best secured by the morals of a nation, will be best settled by an appeal to the passages in the work, that are selected by the indictment for your consideration and judgment. You are at liberty to connect them with every context and sequel, and to bestow upon them the mildest interpretation.*

* Here Mr. Erskine read and commented upon several of the selected passages.

“Gentlemen, it would be useless and disgusting to enumerate the other passages within the scope of the indictment. How any man can rationally vindicate the publication of such a book, in a country where the Christian Religion is the very foundation of the law of the land, I am totally at a loss to conceive, and have no wish to discuss. How is a tribunal, whose whole jurisdiction is founded upon the solemn belief and practice of what is denied as falsehood, and reprobated as impiety, to deal with such an anomalous defence ? Upon what principle is it even offered to the court, whose authority is contemned and mocked at? If the religion, proposed to be called in question, is not previously adopted in belief, and solemnly acted upon, what authority has the court to pass any judgment at all of acquittal or condemnation? Why am I now, or upon any other occasion, to submit to your lordship’s authority ? Why am I now, or at any time, to address twelve of my equals, as I am now addressing you, with reverence and submission? Under what sanction are the witnesó ses to give their evidence, without which there can be no trial ? Under what obligations can I call upon you, the jury, representing your country, to administer justice ? Surely upon no other than that you are sworn to administer it under the oaths you have taken. The whole judicial fabric, from the king's sovereign authority to the lowest office of magistracy, has no other foundation. The whole is built, both in form and substance, upon the same oath of every one of its ministers, to do justice, “as God shall help them hereafter. What God? and what hereafter ? That God, undoubtedly, who has commanded kings to rule, and judges to decree with justice; who has said to witnesses, not by the voice of nature, but in revealed commandments, thou shalt not bear false testimony against thy neighbour ;' and who has enforced obedience to them by the revelation of the unutterable blessings which shall attend their observances, and the awful punishments which shall await their transgressions.

“But it seems this course of reason, and the time and the person are at last arrived, that are to dissipate the errors which have overspread the past generations of ignorance! The believers in Christianity are many, but it belongs to the few that are wise to correct their credulity! Belief is an act of reason; and supe

rior reason may therefore dictate to the weak. In running the mind along the numerous list of sincere and devout christians, I cannot help lamenting that Newton had not lived to this day, to have had his shallowness filled up with this new flood of light. But the subject is too awful for irony. I will speak plainly and directly. Newton was a Christian! Newton, whose mind burst forth from the fetters cast by nature upon our finite conceptions: Newton, whose science was truth, and the foundation of whose knowledge of it was philosophy: not those visionary and arrogant assumptions which too often usurp its name, but philosophy resting upon the basis of mathematics, which, like figures, cannot lie. Newton, who carried the line and rule to the utmost barriers of creation, and explored the principles by which, no doubt, all created matter is held together and exists. But this extraordinary man in the mighty reach of his mind, overlooked, perhaps, the errors which a minuter investigation of the created things on this earth might have taught him, of the essence of his Creator. What shall then be said of the great Mr. Boyle, who looked into the organic structure of all matter, even to the brute inanimate substances which the foot treads on. Such a man may be supposed to have been equally qualified with Mr. Paine, to “ look through nature, up to nature's God." Yet the result of all his contemplation was, the most confirmed and devout belief in all which the other holds in contempt as despicable and drivelling superstition. But this error might, perhaps, arise from a want of due attention to the foundations of human judgment, and the structure of that understanding which God has given us for the investigation of truth. Let that question be answered by Mr. Locke, who was to the highest pitch of devotion and adoration a Christian. Mr. Locke, whose office was to detect the errors of thinking, by going up to the fountains of thought, and to direct into the proper track of reasoning the devious mind of man, by showing him its whole process, from the first perceptions of sense, to the last conclusions of ratiocination ; putting a rein besides upon false opinion, by practical rules for the conduct of human judgment.

“ But these men were only deep thinkers, and lived in their closets, unaccustomed to the traffic of the world, and to the

laws which practically regulate mankind. Gentlemen, in the place where you now sit, to administer the justice of this great country, above a century ago, the never to be forgotten sir Matthew Hale presided, whose faith in christianity is an exalted commentary upon its truth and reason, and whose life was a glorious example of its fruits in man; administering human justice with a wisdom and purity drawn from the pure fountain of the christian dispensation, which has been, and will be, in all ages, a subject of the highest reverence and admiration. But it is said by Mr. Paine, that the christian fable is but the tale of the more ancient superstitions of the world, and may be easily detected by a proper understanding of the mythologies of the hea

Did Milton understand those mythologies ? Was he less versed than Mr. Paine in the superstitions of the world ? No: they were the subject of his immortal song; and though shut out from all recurrence to them, he poured them forth from the stores of a memory rich with all that man ever knew, and laid them in their order as the illustration of that real and exalted faith, the unquestionable source of that fervid genius, which cast a sort of shade upon

all the other works of man

“ He pass'd the bounds of flaming space,
Where angels tremble while they gaze ;
He saw, till, blasted with excess of light,
He clos'd his eyes in endless night!"

the ways

But it was the light of the body only that was extinguished; the celestial light shone inward,' and enabled him to justify

of God to man. The result of his thinking was neyertheless not the same as Mr. Paine's. The mysterious incarnation of our blessed Saviour, which the Age of Reason' blasphemes in words so wholly unfit for the mouth of a Christian, or, for the ear of a court of justice, that I dare not and will not give them utterance-Milton made the grand conclusion of * Paradise Lost, the rest of his finished labours, and the ultimate hope, expectation, and glory of the world :

« PoprzedniaDalej »