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tion of the human race, so truly unpropitious and deplorable; so unrefined and sinful, as obviously to stand in need of the light of revelation? Whatever may be the convictions of interested skeptics, or the proud pretensions of boasting philosophers; Socrates, one of the wisest, best and most renowned philosophers of antiquity, not only acknowledged his conviction of the necessity of a revelation, for the improvement and reformation of mankind, but expresses his firm belief that such a divine communication would be made to the world.
In expressing his views of what could alone effect a reformation of the moral condition of mankind, he says, as Plato has told us-" that it is necessary to wait till such a personage shall appear to teach them how they ought to conduct themselves, both towards God and towards man." He then proceeds to exclaim with great fervor-" O when shall that period arrive! And who shall be that teacher? How ardently do I desire to see this man, who he is!"* In expressing his views and anticipations of this illustrious personage, he says that "this Legislator must be of higher than human extraction; for that as beasts are governed by men, so must man be guided by a nature superior to his own." And how admirably does this representation compare with the character of the glorious Founder of Christianity!
Look, but for a moment, upon the state of society before the revelation of the gospel: What was it? The whole gentile or heathen world was enveloped in darkness and involved in crime! Cruelty, and rapine, and murder, stalked abroad in open day, emboldened and sanctioned by the laws of the most civilized nations! Debauchery and lewdness, so far from being viewed as criminal, were enrolled among the most worthy and acceptable acts of devotion! The worst propensities of human nature were tolerated and applauded, as commendable virtues !
Amidst all this degeneracy and human degradation; through all this gloom and darkness, which the light of nature, reason and philosophy, had in vain labored for ages to remove, the glorious "sun of righteousness arises !” Repentance and reformation is demanded in the name of * Alcibiad. II. de Precat. † De Leg. lib. 4,
the Almighty Creator of heaven and earth, predicated upon the condescension, the mercy and forgiving love of God; the beauty and excellence of moral virtue; and powerfully supported by the righteous retributions of " the Judge of quick and dead !"
The illustrious Founder of Christianity boldly condemns the degeneracy of the Jew, and the base and grovelling idolatry of the Greek and in firm defiance of all the armies of human passions, prejudices and customs, he lays the axe of divine truth at the root of every evil tree, without the least regard to distinctions of rank or fortune, and exposes the horrid enormity of wickedness, in all its alluring forms!
From the lowest occupations in life, he selects his instruments to oppose the pride of learning and philosophy, and employs the weakest and humblest of men, to contend against the rulers of the darkness of this world! He triumphs over all the deep-laid schemes of his adversaries, and his wisdom and benevolence obtains a speedy conquest over the hearts of bold and impenitent sinners! Thousands flock to hear his instructive sermons-the power of God is displayed-the deaf are made to hear, the lame to walk, the dumb to speak, the lepers are cleansed, and the dead are quickened into life! He professes to be commissioned from God, whose power he displays, and patiently yields up his life as the seal of his testimony.
His followers mourn the sad reversion of their prospects, and their hearts are discouraged But hark! the tomb's strong dreary cavern first witnesses the triumphant glory of resurrection power, and the countenances of his desponding followers brighten with joy and gladness!— They hasten to bear the news of his resurrection, and to proclaim his doctrine to the benighted tribes of Jacob, and the idolatrous nations of the heathen world! And now mark the astonishing effect which it produces throughout the land of Palestine, and the wide-spread empire of the Romans.
As the influences of christianity began to be felt, the most salutary laws began to be instituted, corresponding with the pure system of morals, which were inculcated
and enforced by the sanctions of revealed religion. Polygamy and divorce, the two worst banes of social confidence, and of connubial peace and prosperity, soon began to fall into disgrace, and in a short time, almost totally disappeared. The lives of children, which before were subject to the will and caprice of unfeeling parents, were now guarded by the most wholesome laws. The dreadful horrors of slavery were softened, and gradually removed from the empire. The savage ferocity of men was exchanged for the spirit of mildness, meekness and peace; while a laudable subordination to the civil institutions of the land, marked the peaceable demeanor of thousands who had felt the benign spirit and influence of revealed truth.
Centuries had passed away, the arts and sciences had enjoyed a constant and progressive improvement, philosophy had unveiled her splendors, and human wisdom had brought forth its richest stores to improve the condition of the world; but still, moral darkness, with all its frightful train of detestable vices and sufferings, triumphed over the noblest works of the Creator, and sunk them in barbarous ignorance and the grossest superstition and impurity. The reason was, the designs of infinite wisdom and love, were neither written upon the sunbeam, inscribed upon the azure vault of heaven, or so plainly impressed upon the pages of providence as to enable the sapient eye of philosophy to decipher the doctrine of pardon and grace, the future destiny of man, or the glorious hope of immortality by a resurrection from the dead.
When these glorious truths were unfolded by the light of christian revelation, and man was brought to see that his duty and his happiness consisted in imitating the God of boundless compassion and grace, he felt the force of his obligation to love and forgive his enemies, and to employ his best exertions for the instruction and reformation of mankind. This could only be done by refining and elevating his conceptions of the Supreme Being, and calling forth the hopes of future happy existence. No system had ever exerted, nor could exert this happy influence, but the system of revealed religion. Wherever this prevailed, civilization and moral refinement progressed with a rapid
ity and power, unknown before in all the annals of the world: And I may add; from its instructive pages, the invaluable charters of civil and religious rights have been drawn by all the civilized nations of the globe.
Permit me then to ask the most fastidious in the school of skepticism, did not the condition of man imperatively demand the light of revelation for his improvement and reformation in government and morals?
EXODUS iii. 11.
"And Moses said unto God, Who am I, that I should go unto Pharoah, and that I should bring forth the children of Israel out of Egypt?"
In my former labors, I have presented you with a brief, but faithful picture of the general depravity of manners which prevailed for a long succession of ages throughout the heathen world. The catalogue of their enormities and vices, were they all brought together, which are registered on the pages of history, would swell into a ponderous volume, over which the benevolence and refinements of the present age would be charitably inclined to draw an impenetrable veil. Enough, however, has been brought to view, to show that no means which were employed for centuries were found to be of sufficient influence to diminish the aggregate of human guilt and of human wretched
An unanswerable argument for the support of this conclusion is found in the clear and obvious truth, that during these long periods of general ignorance and crime, men reasoned on almost every other subject, save those which were connected with religion, with an acuteness and power, which clearly denote the manly growth and maturity of intellectual strength.
I have shown, that during these periods of degeneracy, the arts and sciences were on the march of improvement, that learning displayed its charms, and that philosophy opened her richest stores for the intellectual repast of man And yet, for all their power and influence, vices the most shocking to human nature were openly practised amidst the most refined circles, and tolerated by the laws of the wisest legislators! Nay, more-they were taught, and enforced, and eulogized, as the most aceptable acts of devotion and piety to the gods!