« AnteriorContinuar »
ing to the extent of our wishes, yet according to the utmost of our ability, to the glory of this state!
I. We just now insinuated, that the false glosses put upon the maxim of the wise man were the principal causes of our backwardness to admit the truth of it. It is therefore important to state the question clearly.
1. When we affirm that righteousness and religion in general, (for it would be easy to prove that the word righteousness in the text is to be taken in this vague sense,) I say, when we affirm that religion exulteth a nation, we do not mean such a religion as many imagine. We ingenuously acknowledge, and would to God the whole world acknowledged! that neither the religion of a cruel man, nor the religion of a superstitious person, nor the religion of an enthusiast can exalt a nation. How
can the religion of a cruel man exalt a nation ? The religion of such men is too well known for the peace of Europe. Such as these, under pretence of devotion, cut a free course for their own black and inflexible passions. These arm themselves with the civil sword to destroy all, who doubt the truth of their systems; they put violence in the place of demonstration, and endeavor to establish the gospel, as if it were the koran of Mohammed, by force and constraint. These characters, as I just now said, are too well known for the peace of Europe. Even now, while I speak, I behold many, who have suffered under such cruelty, and have opposed the strongest argument against it. No, my brethren, this it not the religion that exalteth a nation. Such a religion depopulates states, ruins commerce, and is a never failing source of civil wars and intestine commotions. The religion, of which we speak, is a kind, patient, gentle religion ; a religion, the grand character of which is forbearance, benevolence, and fraternal love ; a religion inimical to error and heresy:, but which, however, pities the erroneous and the heretic ; a religion, which exerts itself to eradicate false doctrines : but which leaves each at liberty to admit the truth; a religion which hath no other sword than the Sword of the Spirit, nor any other weapon than that of the word.
How can the religion of a superstitious man exalt a nation? It makes devotion degenerate into idleness, it increaseth the number of ecclesiastics and so renders many members useless to society. It wastes in pretendedly pious foundations immense sums, which might have contributed to the advancement of arts and sciences. It generates scruples in the minds of statesmen, and so restrains the exercise of those fine faculties, which God created for the good of the state. It puts the casuist in the place of the prince, and the prince in the place of the casuist, the casuist on the throne, and the prince in confession at his feet. No, my brethren, this is not the religion, of which we speak. The religion of which we speak, is opposite to superstition. It is just and solid, requiring us to render unto Cæsar ihe things that are Cæsar's, and unto God the things that are God's, Matt. xii. 17. It prescribes bounds to sovereigns : but it requires casuists also to know their place.
How can the religion of an enthusiast contribute to the exaltation of a nation ? the soul of an enthusiast is always agitated with visions and reveries. He incessantly thrusts himself into the co.npany of the great in order to inspire them with his own spirit, and to breathe into them the soul of enthusiasm. He endeavors to animate governors called to watch over a state, and to conduct the people to national happiness, with his wild schemes. He is always talking of extirpating the reformation, and thundering excommunications against those who do not enter into his extravagant projects ; his anathemas are as extravagant and wild as the projects themselves. This is not the religion, of which we speak. The religion that exalteth a nation, is derived from the treasures of the Divine Intelligence ; it was formed in the mind of that supreme Spirit, from whom wisdom proceeds, as the streams flow from the spring: and not in the ideas of a disordered brain, nor in the dreams of a visionary.
We wish you to take religion and righteousness in the true sense of the terms. This is our first elucidatiou. This is the first precaution, that must be used to understand the state of the question.
2. We do not mean to affirm, that the true religion is so necessary in all its doctrines, and in all the extent of its precepts, that there are no instances of the flourishing of societies, which have not been wholly regulated by it. We acknowledge that some societies of men, who have been only partially governed by its maxims, have enjoyed long and glorious advantages upon the theatre of the world, either because their false religions contained some principles of rectitude in common with the true religion ; or because God, in order to animåte such people to practise some virtues, superficial indeed, but, however, necessary to the being of society, annexed success to the exercise of them; or because he prospered them to answer some secret designs of his wisdom; or because, finally, rectitude was never so fully established on earth as to preclude injustice from enjoying the advantages of virtue, or virtue from suffering the penalties of vice. However it were, we allow the
fact, and we only affirm, that the most sure method, that a nation can take to support and esalt itself, is to follow the laws of righteousness and the spirit of religion. This is a second elucidation tending to state the question clearly.
3. We do not affirm, that in every particular case religion is more successful in procuring some temporal advantage than the violation of it ; so that to consider society only in this point of light, and to confine it to this particular case independently of all other circumstances, religion yields the honor of posterity to injustice. We allow, some state crimes have been successful, and have been the steps, by which some people have acquired worldly glory. We even allow, that virtue hath sometimes been an obstacle to grandeur. We only affirm, that, if a nation be considered in every point of light, and in all circumstances, if all things be weighed, it will be found that the more a society practise virtue the more prosperity it will enjoy. We affirm, that the more it abandons itself to vice the more misery will it sooner or later suffer ; so that the very vice, which contributed to its exaltation,' will produce its destruction; and the very virtue, which seems at first to abase it, will in the end exalt it to glory. This is a third elucidation.
-4. We do not mean by exaltation that sort of elevation, at which worldly heroes, or rather tyrants aspire. We acknowledge, that, if by exalting a nation be understood an elevation extending itself beyond the limits of rectitude, an elevation not directed by justice and good faith, an elevation consisting of the acquisitions of wanton and arbitrary power, an elevation obliging the whole world to 'submit to a yoke of slavery, and so becoming an executioner of divine vengeance on all mankind; we allow, that in this sense exaltation is not an effect of righteousness. But, if we understand by exalling a nation whatever governs with gentleness, negociates with success, attacks with courage, defends with resolution, and constitutes the happiness of a people, whatever God always beholds with favorable eyes; if this be what is meant by exalting a nation, we affirm, a nation is exalted only by righteousness.
5. In fine, we do not affirm, that the prosperity of such a nation would be so perfect as to exclude all untoward circumstances. We only say, that , the highest glory, and the most perfect happiness,, which can be enjoyed by a nation in a world, where, after all, there is always a mixture of adversity with prosperity, are the fruits of righteousness. These, elucidations must be retained, not only because, they explain the thesis, which we are supporting, and becanse they are the ground of what we shall, hereafter say: but also because they serve to preclude such objections, to solve such difficulties, and to unravel such sophisms, as the author, whom we oppose, urges against us.
One argument against us, is taken from the abuses, which religion hath caused in society: but this objection is removed, by taking away false ideas of religion. A second objection is taken from the case of some idolatrous nations, who, though they were strangers to revealed religion, have yet arrived at a great height of worldly glory: but this objection is removed by our second elucidation. A third objection is taken from some particular case, in which vice is of more advantage to a state than virtue: but this objection falls before the manner in which we have stated the question. A fourth objection is taken from extravagant notions of glory: but this objection is removed by distinguishing true exaltation from false. Finally, an objec