Obrazy na stronie

why, that when their emperors ascended the throne, the reigning emperor very frequently caused the adherents of his predecessor to be murdered: from whence such bloody scenes ensued, that, as has been before observed, out of fifty-seven successive emperors,

from Julius Cæsar to Augustulus, all but nineteen died a violent death. It was owing to the general prevalence of this inhumanity, that women, much more savage than brutes, exposed their children to death in the public roads; and a variety of similar instances of cruelty flowed from this unfeeling source, particularly detailed in a late elegant and instructive publication, “ On the Beneficial “ Effects of Christianity," by the present Bishop of London.

Whilst the minds of all ranks of men were polluted by such false and cruel sentiments, it is impossible to imagine the heathen philosophers ever taught or inculcated benevolence and good will to mankind as an obligatory duty; nor did they; for, instead of those numerous charitable institutions which, from the doctrines of Christianity, have been every where established for the relief of human misery, both mental and corporeal, we never read of an hospital, or any such esta


blishment, made at Athens, and only of one, by a lady, in Rome, prior to the promulgation of the doctrines of Jesus Christ. The extreme misery and slavery the heathen mind was subject to from superstition was indeed shocking. Plutarch, in his life of the Athenian general Nicias, proves, that his superstition respecting an eclipse of the moon, at the siege of Syracuse, was the cause not only of the death of many thousand brave soldiers and sailors, but it was eventually one of the chief and most fundamental causes of the final overthrow of the Athenian republic; for it never could recover the fatal effects it experienced from the defeat of Nicias. Such likewise was the dread of the Romans, even at the common phænomenon of thunder, that it was considered as a sufficient reason to suspend all public business and meetings: accordingly Pompey, wishing once to dissolve a public meeting, did so, on pretence that it thundered, though in reality it did not. But those who may be desirous of knowing a variety of instances of the excessive superstition of the Greeks and Romans, which cannot with propriety be inserted in a treatise of this kind, will find in Potter's Greek and Ken

net's Roman Antiquities many pages filled with them; and he will observe, that men of the most improved minds, such as Augustus Cæsar, were as subject to them as the lowest classes of the people. There is exactly the same spirit of superstition in modern nations, where the blessing of revealed religion does not prevail ; as the reader will find instanced in Major Symes's Embassy to Ava, Maurice's Indian Antiquities, Harris's Voyages, &c. Another similar tyranny was exerted over the heathen mind by oracles, divinations, and augury; to which our Saviour's doctrines put a final stop, as the apostate Emperor Julian expressly admits; and they were likewise the cause of abolishing childmurder, (which the Emperor Trajan tried in vain to do,) human sacrifices, and those barbarous instances of cruelty, which were exhibited on the public theatre for Roman amusement. Again, the ancient philosophers were far from having had any just ideas of that humility of mind, without which there can exist no beauty or excellence, no real virtue or piety in the character of man. Whenever we read the writings of either the philosophers, poets, or historians of antiquity, we are sometimes shocked at the

[ocr errors]

blasphemy, but continually disgusted with those sentiments of pride, arrogance, and self-sufficiency, which so perpetually degrade their compositions. Seneca, for example, is so extravagant, as to set his sage even above God himself. “ Est aliquid, quo sapiens ante“ cedat Deum: Ille naturæ beneficio non ti“ met; suo sapiens *.” But the most important point, in which our blessed Saviour's doctrines soared beyond all the systems of the ancient philosophers, was in the establishment of human happiness on its true and proper basis, and which was never done by any heathen. The late Mr. Harris, in his learned and celebrated Treatise on Happiness, has collected the opinions of the best philosophers of antiquity on this subject, and has proved, that the most perfect idea they entertained of the sovereign good of man was this ; " That it must be agreeable to our naSe ture, conducive to well-being, accommodate " to all places and times, be durable, self“ derived, and indeprivable ;” accordingly these men placed it in virtue, in human virtue, that is, in each man's acting according to his interpretation of virtue. This was

* Epist. lii.

doubtless the best theory they could adopt as a rule of conduct; but from their ignorance of the nature, and of a proper standard of true and genuine virtue, they miserably failed in their practice. Brutus, for example, whose mind, Plutarch observes, was highly cultivated by philosophy, thought it a great degree of virtue to assassinate Cæsar, because he affected kingly power.

Now had he been educated in the doctrines of revelation, and his mind enlightened by the superior principles of Christianity, (though he might by no means have remained an inactive or tame observer of the conduct of a man, who threatened the subversion of the liberties of his country, and would, perhaps, have readily risked his life in such a defence of those liberties as the laws allowed and justified,) he would never have engaged in the dark conspiracy on which he so readily entered : he would have considered, that à man is not justified in doing evil that good may come of it, and that he is not permitted to take the sword of justice in this foul and underhand manner into his own hands ; especially against his friend, patron, and benefactor, and a person who had given him his life and liberty, both which he had

« PoprzedniaDalej »