« AnteriorContinuar »
in full luxuriance ; how then can you expect a harvest? You toil from day to day in subduing the wildness of mother earth, but take no thought how much need there is of subduing yourself. In your solitary walks, and when on your pillow, the cares and business of life occupy your whole mind; and the lessons of wisdom, which you should be learning from your employment, are crouded out of view. Or perhaps you are resolved to be rich and great, and so plunge eagerly into a round of business on a larger scale ; you study by night, and act by day; you travel by land, and tempt the main ; you rana sack all the sources of wealth ; you put in practice every art, every stratagem that promises success; you intrigue ; you circumvent; you strive to vie with this one, and outstrip the other; you count your treasures; you reckon your gains ; you triumph at your successes, and sicken at your disappointments ; your ship returns rich, ly laden ; your heart beats high with joy ; or you hear she is swallowed up in the ocean; down sink your spirits ; and despair shivers through your veins. Again you venture, and seek to repair your losses ; fear and anxiety prey upon your mind, and render you inattentive to every thing but your beloved hoards. Does your heart fail you, when you contemplate these alternate changes from joy to sorrow, and from sorrow to joy, that ever must attend an ardent pursuit of business or ambition? Then perhaps you will enter on what you deem a wiser course of life : So on you drive from pleasure to pleasure ; constantly pursuing what as constantly flies your pursuit. Foiled and disappointed in one track, you turn about, and fix your attention on some new object. But still the phantom flies; or if you are able to overtake it, you find you are embracing but a shadow ; it eludes your grasp, and instantly vanishes from your sight. This you call a life of pleasure and happiness. O folly ! O wondrous stupidity! Amid all this turmoil of business or pleasure, what care have you taken, what care could you take of your heart? What cula tivation has it received ? None at all ; it is all overgrown with brambles and thorns. No one virtue can shoot up there, but it is immediately overtopped by ambition, love of gain, or lust of pleasure ; it is choked and rendered altogether'unfruitful by some poisonous plant or another, that is left to shoot in full vigour from the native rank soil of fallen man. Where virtue cannot grow, peace and happiness will not dwell. Those heaven-descended guests will not associate with the heart that is perpetually absorbed in riches, ambition or pleasure : They fly the haunts of these unclean passions, to dwell only with the humble, the meek, and the virtuous.
Go forth then, and learn wisdom, purity, virtue, and peace from the cultivator's hand. Clear away the exorbitant desires of thy heart, and fit it to receive the good seed which God promises to BOW. Let it enter deep into thy affections, and take root in thy soul. With continual cultivation encourage its growth. Weed away, as fast as they shoot up, every hurtful plant. Be a diligent, a wise, and prudent husbandman over thyself. Keep that little field, thy heart, well enclosed and secure from the encroachments and depredations of every disorderly passion; and it will bring forth a plentiful hare Vest of good things, rewarding an hundred fold and more, thy care
and diligence. God, by his grace, will water, as with the dew of
ESSAY ON INFIDELITY...No. III.
IN my last essay, the utility of the Christian Sabbath was considered. How much that institution contributes to civilization, and to extend the blessings of social life, was largely shewn. This is a point to which the advocates of revelation do not seem to have sufficiently adverted : and infidels have been rather cautious of bringe ing it into view; knowing as we may well suppose, that they should gain nothing by assailing this part of the Christian fortress. Even Paine, who must be viewed as one of the boldest of this sort of men, so far as I recollect (and I make the observation from memory only, not having the book at hand) has ventured very little further than to hint a doubt of the utility of such an institution. It would therefore perhaps be unfair and uncandid, to say they wish to see it quite abole ished. Abstractly considered, it is probable the wisest of them do not. At the same time they may well be asked, whether they think it would long continue to be observed, should they succeed in destroying all faith in its divine appointment ? Have we not abundant reason to fear, that the avarice of some, and the indolence of others would soon bring it into utter disuse? The efficacy of human laws, should they be continued, would avail but little, Take away the belief that it is God's institution; the foundation would be removed, and inevitable destruction would follow. Yet infidels are perpetually labouring by their writings, and in their discourses, to remove this foundation. With regard to many of them at least, we may charitably hope they do it without considering the magnitude of the mis. chiefs they may do: without once thinking, if they should be gene. rally successful, how certainly they would rend in pieces the best, most useful and stable institutions of civil society. They have sei. zed upon the corruptions which have been engrafted upon genuine Christianity, by the folly or wickedness of its professors : These they have magnified, distorted, and caricatured ; until they have pro. duced in their imaginations, a hideous monster, which deserves to be scouted from the earth. On these evils, which they represent as resulting from a pretended revelation, they have ruminated until their own understandings are actually bewildered, so that they do not see the benefit they are reaping from what they so much labour to decry. On these evils, they have descanted, and expended their wit and their satire, until they have shaken or quite overturned the faith of many, who from their avocations and circumstances, are indifferently qualified to investigate subjects of this sort, or duly to appreciate arguments somewhat complicated; and who therefore, are under the ne
cessity of following a guide. This being the case with them, have we not abundant reason to think they will rather follow such a one as flatters their passions, gratifies their indolence, and inspires them with hopes of impunity in whatever vices they may choose to indulge. He who will not admit this consequence, must be either little versed in hu. man nature, or himself very perverse and viciously inclined. We wish for nothing but fair and candid treatment: Let the good which Christianity has done and is doing to the world, be put into one scale, and its enemies have full liberty to place in the other, all the evils they can find or surmise, that have risen from its corruptions, and the misdirection of its principles by wicked men. Let them meet us fairly on this ground alone, and we need not fear the result. · I again wish it to be well remembered, that I enter into no discussion of the arguments for, or against the divine authority of the Scriptures, and their consequent obligation on reasonable creatures. I take the Christian system as it has been, and is professed in the world, and found all I have to say on what must be admitted to be matter of fact. Bishop Horne in his Letters to Infidels, informs us that it is his design to carry the war into the enemy's country, and to attack them on their own ground. In the spirit of the same allusion, it is mine to dispossess them of the out-works which they imagine they have secured, from whence successfully to annoy the citadel. If these are maintained, in vain will be Hume's metaphysical dexterity; Voltaire may discharge to no purpose his sarcasms, or Paine his grosser scoffs. They must attack from a distance: Their weapons must drop short of their mark, or fly harmless over the garrison within.
Decidedly believing this to be the most eligible way of defending revelation against the attacks of its enemies, I proceed to examine the happy influence which Christianity has had in bettering the morals of men, and making them more observant of the duties which they owe to themselves and each other. Much vice and wickedness indeed, still prevail where the gospel is professed, and among those who pretend to believe in, and live by its precepts. But what then? The proper question to be settled is, are vice and impurity so flagTantly practised ? are such vile abominations tolerated and approved, as were before the light of the gospel shown? No one who is acquainted with this subject, will dare pretend he can find room hardJy for a comparison. Enormities, it is well known, were openly encouraged by the very best of the heathens, which decency hardly permits to be named. In the language of an Apostle however, hear them enumerated; For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections : for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature : and likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the women, burned in their lust one toward another ; men with men, working that which is unseemly. **** Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness ; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity, whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, without understanding, covenant breakers, with. out natural affection, implacable, unmerciful.* Not that all these vices
* Rom. i. 26, 29, 30, 31.
were openly tolerated and practised without rebuke; but many of them were: and such as were deemed odious by the wiser and better sort, could not be restrained in any tolerable degree, by the authority of their precepts and example, or by the force of human laws. Among those directly encouraged was that vile abomination first mentioned by the Apostle. This, it is known, was very universally practised by the gravest of their philosophers, who professed to be instructors and patterns of morality. And who can read, but with indignation, the Roman poet, whose verses have so long delighted, and we may say instructed the learned in many useful things, where he celebrates his love of a beautiful boy. Horrible perversion of the human character! If it had not been generally esteemed innocent, such a testimony, with a great many others that might be cited, would not have come down to this late posterity, to be an everlasting stigma upon heathen morality, however excellent it may have been in other respects.
The philosophers indeed taught and inculeated a system, which in many points was pure and exalted ; and what they taught, in some good degree they practised in their lives. But still it was most wretchedly defective, in a great many important particulars. Lewdness, debauchery and intemperance are very hardly treated as vices; but at most, no more than follies easily pardoned. And when we consider that the religion they professed, directly encouraged and required the practice of these vices, in the impure worship which they addressed to their fancied deities, the patrons of wine, and of lust; what could be the consequence but the most abandoned licentiousness? Revelling and drunkenness, with the gratification of every impure desire, were the rites with which those divinities were supposed to be well pleased : Consequently in the season when their festivals were kept, the temples were converted into brothels ; they were filled with intoxication and disorder : Neither did the monstrous perversion end here, and remain concealed within the walls of a temple ; for whole troops of naked Bacchanalians, as they were called, used to sally forth, and with all the extravagant actions of drunkenness, scour the town and the country. Now what instruction, what precept, what force of example, had there been any in the world, could resist so much temptation ? But the worst part of the picture is yet to be presented : For the philosophers purposely confined their instruction to a chosen few; and never even attempted to enlighten and reform the vulgar; but left them to wallow in all the vices which their depraved hearts should prompt them to commit. Without instruction, without precept, without the motive of honour and ambition to gain and preserve a fair reputation, and with but faint hopes or fears of any good or evil, except from present things ; perhaps a great part of them, altogether without any motive drawn from the consideration of a future life ; what could they consider as their greatest good, but the gratification of their animal desires ? What of course must have been their characters, but a compound of vice, fe. rocity, and brutality? We need neither human nor divine history to inform us that this must have been the case. When we see so much vice prevalent ainong men, with all the advantages and glorious mo
tives of the gospel before them, what must they have been without those advantages? The question does not need to be answered : Every one must immediately answer for himself.
That the common people were thus neglected, take the following proof among hundreds that might be adduced, from one of the gravest and best of their writers on morality.* I would have you bear in mind, says he, that to the vulgar, every thing is permissible, (for this license results from the very circumstances in which they are born and brought up but to the better sort, the neglect of virtue is unpardonable. This singular concession in favour of vice is addressed to a young man, whom the writer is endeavouring to impress with sentiments of wise dom and virtue; and it goes to prove, that they not only neglected and despised the great body of the community, but unduly fostered the pride of those whom they deigned to instruct. The whole ten, dency of such partiality was to exalt the one class, and depress the other; to produce, consequently, insolence on one side, and abject meamness on the other. But had it been otherwise-had they endeavoured to instruct and reform all alike, yet what authority had they to enforce their precepts? By what sufficient motive could they urge obedience? They could not do it by the powerful considerations of future happiness or misery ; for after all the fine things they have said concerning the soul's immortality and they have said every thing that unassisted reason could say, and perhaps in the best manner too) still they appear very hardly to have believed in the doctrine, which they professed to teach. Their faith was, at the best, waver. ing and unsteady. They seem to have been aware, that with such lights as they had, this was an insecure ground upon which to rest their exhortations; and therefore had recourse to honour, ambition, and love of fame. They were very solicitous to remind their pu. pils of immortality on earth, a great name to descend to posterity, as a motive to virtuous actions; but said little to them of their condition after death. But what efficacy could such motives have upon those to whom they were offered, against unbridled appetites and passions ? On some of the best inclined they doubtless did operate, to a considerable degree; though not enough to produce that undeviating virtue, and those sober manners, which constitute the character of a rational being. Even of these philosophers themselves, we find recorded many instances of gross immorality. How small then must have been the effect of their instruction, upon the generality of those whom they taught? There must have been few who did not give a loose to their desires when assaulted by temptations. They talked well in the closet, or in the school of philosophy; but in the world they acted the reverse. And the black catalogue of vices enumerated by the Apostle, were openly committed to a far greater extent than can be pretended, where Christanity is professed. Do modern un. believers wish to reduce the world to the same state? I hope not. I believe not. No; they labour for they know not what; to gratify a pride of singularity; or to serve some other particular interest of their own; or by dwelling only on the dark side of things, and ascribing to Christianity the evils which have resulted from the wicked, * * Isocrates.