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Christians on the bench, and in the senate, and even among the officers in the imperial palace.
Its effect upon those who cordially embraced it is said, even on the authority of its enemies, to have been great; but its progress was stopped before it could produce an extensive reformation upon the masses of society, partly by the gross corruption of manners and of morals that pervaded every corner of the empire, from Rome itself, that colluvies gentium, where every species of wickedness was carried to its extreme, to the distant and semibarbarous provinces -- partly to the terrible persecutions to which from time to time Christians were exposed — but partly and chiefly to the corruption of Christianity itself, by its being mixed up, in order to accommodate it to the taste of the people and their rulers, with the superstitions of Paganism, and the vain speculations of what was then called philosophy.
Thus, before Christianity was originally introduced into the Roman empire, the Roman world was thoroughly corrupted; and before it was adopted as the religion of the state, it was in some degree corrupted itself, though not so entirely as it was in after ages under the influence, and by the inventions, of the Roman hierarchy. From this time, therefore, till the period of the Reformation, although there was perhaps no period when the pure doctrines of Christianity were altogether extinguished, and though these were always kept alive in some corner or other of the Church, yet, so far as regarded the world at large, or even that part of it where Christianity nominally prevailed, its light shone with a very faint and imperfect lustre. But the sun was in the heavens, though its full radiance was intercepted by clouds and vapours. Christianity, though corrupted, was Christianity still; and it was impossible that it could be so disguised and altered, but that some
fragment of the true faith, some remnant of a pure morality, should not remain, and make a due impression on its votaries. The leaven was hid in the meal, and though still far from having thoroughly impregnated the mass, yet many of its particles were so impregnated.
So stood matters till the sixteenth century, when the simultaneous occurrence of these two great events - the Reformation, and the invention of printing-opened a new era in the history of mankind. It is from this period, undoubtedly, that we are to date the effectual promulgation of Gospel truth throughout any considerable portion of Europe; and accordingly, we are to judge of its effects solely, or chiefly, by what it has accomplished since that period. Taking the above explanation along with us, as to the comparatively short period of its full operation, I shall proceed to mention what it has done, and what changes have taken place in the manners of society, that may fairly be attributed to its influence.
1. I may mention the almost total extinction of certain crimes, which were very general at least, if not universal, in the heathen world ; and the considerable mitigation of others, which, it must be confessed, still prevail in too great a degree. The gross licentiousness and unnatural practices prevalent among the Romans at a time when the empire was in its most palmy state, are sufficiently notorious. It is only necessary to refer to their own writers, Tacitus, Suetonius, Juvenal, Petronius Arbiter, and even the elegant Virgil, to shew that certain crimes were then practised openly, and without shame, which, as St Paul says, are not so much as to be named among Christians.
2. It has raised the character and improved the condition of the female sex, Ist, By abolishing polygamy; 2d, By prohibiting divorce, except in the case of conjugal
infidelity: Females were, in heathen times, universally treated as an inferior part of the race, and subjected completely to the will, and even the caprice and tyranny of the male sex. By the universal law of Christian states, the rights of the sexes are now placed as nearly as possible on a footing of equality. The status of females being thus improved, their character has improved along with it. Being now treated with respect, they have been taught to respect themselves, and the consequences have been most beneficial to society. Their opinions are listened to— their approbation coveted - their taste consulted—their comfort sedulously cared for—and their influence in all the arrangements of society little, if at all, inferior to that of the other sex. To this influence is owing much of the good order, decency, and propriety of private life, in which, it will not be denied, the ancients were decidedly inferior to the moderns. And it must not be forgotten, that if Christianity has been the means of raising the condition and improving the character of the female sex, their influence has, on the other hand, been very decidedly favourable to Christianity. The female mind is more generally open to religious impressions than the male — more readily accepts, and more eagerly embraces the aids of spiritual influences; and when we consider the effect this must have on the other sex, and, above all, on the tender minds of the youth of both sexes, who, during the earlier part of their lives, are intrusted almost entirely to the care of their mothers, it is easy to see how powerful an instrument this must be for the amelioration of society.
3. Christianity has been the means of abolishing slavery. It is well known that slavery, and the purchase and sale of captives, existed universally in the ancient world ; and although there is no express declaration in Scripture making it unlawful, yet it is obvious that the
whole tendency and spirit of Christian feelings and principles is against the practice. There is no system that so powerfully and effectually teaches the original equality of all mankind, as that which inculcates the infinite value of the human soul, and the obligation upon all to love their brethren (without exception) as themselves. Hence it has arisen, that for many centuries slavery has been abolished in all the European Christian states; and so utterly repugnant is it considered to the genius and spirit of our own constitution, that it has been long since declared by our law authorities, that the moment a slave touches British ground he is free. This of itself might be regarded as a victory of no small value over the selfish prejudices and inveterate customs of antiquity; but another victory-nobler still, because more hardly wonhas been achieved by the same principles in our own day. Although British laws did not permit slavery in our own soil, a supposed necessity, countenanced by the example of other nations, continued to sanction it in our colonies. The history of the rise and progress of West India slavery, and of the slave trade, need not here be detailed, as they are known to all; and equally well known were the eager, strenuous, and long-continued attempts to put an end to the cruel and nefarious traffic in 6 the bodies and the souls of men.” These attempts were at last crowned with success; and no sooner was this point achieved, but an equally strenuous series of efforts began, first to ameliorate the condition of the slave, and finally to abolish slavery altogether. This question took a strong hold of the public mind, in so much, that latterly it became only a question of time, all being agreed on the propriety of abolishing slavery so soon as it could be done without detriment to the slave. The question was at last decided ; and whether the proper time has been chosen or not, all are satisfied, that on principle it has
been decided rightly; and Mr. Combe himself admits, that no parallel instance can be produced of so noble a sacrifice being made by any nation at the shrine of humanity and justice. But to what, I ask, has been owing the merit of the sacrifice — the glory of the victory ? : Is it to the peculiar doctrines of any sect of philosophers—the speculations of political economistsor the far-searching views of practical legislators ? Does mankind owe the abolition of slavery to Phrenology ? Not to any of all these, but to the pure and salutary influence of Christianity alone, are these effects to be ascribed. They are a practical application of the simple and sublime maxim, to “ do to others as we would have others do to us.” Every one knows that these questions were first stirred by a small and originally uninfluential body of Christians, considered by many to be visionaries and fanatics, and desiguated, not in token of respect, but of derision, as “ the saints.” But in this case, as in many others, it has been shewn that God has chosen the weak things of the world to confound the strong, and the foolish things of the world to confound the wise. It was neither by superior talent or eloquence, nor the support of eminent station or political power, that the cause of the abolition prospered. The contest was begun, continued, and persevered in, sometimes even against hope, by a steady adherence to Christian principle, which, addressing itself to the higher feelings and sentiments of the public, at last brought the question to a successful termination. In what country, not Christian, has such a victory been achieved, and by such means ?
4. Christianity has improved the condition of the people generally, by the institution of the Sabbath. The full value of such an institution can hardly be understood by those who are exempted by their situation from the constant pressure of daily labour. The rich and idle, or