Изображения страниц
PDF
EPUB

curgus, and Numa, and Odin, and Mango- selves, if they thought fit, become wise Copac, and all the great legislators of an- and virtuous.--I answer with Cicero, Ut cient or modern story, have been of opi- nibil interest, utrum nemo valeat, an nion, that the affairs of a civil society could nemo valere possit; sic non intelligo quid not well be conducted without some reli- intersit, utrum nemo sit sapiens, an nemo gion; you must of necessity introduce a

esse possit. priesthood, with, probably, as much hy- These, however, you will think, are pocrisy; a religion, with, assuredly, more extraordinary instances; and that we ought superstition, than that which you now not from these, to take our measure of the reprobate with such indecent and ille excellency of the law of nature; but rather grounded contempt. But I will tell you, from the civilized states of China and from what you will have freed the world; Japan, or from the nations which flouyou will have freed it from its abhorrence rished in learning and in arts, before Chrisof vice, and from every powerful incen- tianity was heard of in the world. You tive to virtue; you will, with the religion, mean to say, that by the law of nature, have brought back the depraved morality which you are desirous of substituting in of Paganism; you will have robbed man. the room of the gospel, you do not underkind of their firm assurance of another stand those rules of conduct, which an life; and thereby you will have despoiled individual, abstracted from the commuthem of their patience, of their humility, nity, and deprived of the institution of of their charity, of their chastity, of all mankind, could excogitate for himself; those mild and silent virtues, which (how. but such a system of precepts, as the most ever despicable they may appear in your enlightened men of the most enlightened eyes) are the only ones, which meliorate ages have recommended to our observance. and sublime our nature ; which Paganism Where do you find this system? We never knew, which spring from Chris- cannot meet with it in the works of Slotianity alone, which do or might consti- bæus, or the Scythian Apacharsis; nor in tute our comfort in this life, and without those of Plato, nor of Cicero, nor in those the possession of which, another life, if of the Emperor Antoninus, or the slave after all there should happen to be one, Epictetus ; for we are persuaded, that the must be more vicious and more misera- most animated considerations of the apeble than this is, unless a miracle be ex. mov, and the honestum, of the beauty of erted in the alteration of our disposition. virtue, and the fitness of things, are not

Perhaps you will contend, that the uni- able to furnish, even a Brutus himself, versal light of religion, that the truth and with permanent principles of action; fitness of things, are of themselves suffi- much less are they able to purify the polcient to exalt the nature, and regulate luted recesses of a vitiated heart, to curb the manners of mankind. Shall we ne- the irregularities of appetite, or restrain ver have done with this groundless com- the impetuosity of passion in common mendation of natural law? Look into the men. If you order us to examine the first chapter of Paul's epistle to the Ro- works of Grotius, or Puffendorf, of Burmans, and you will see the extent of its lamaqui, or Hutchinson, for what you influence over the Gentiles of those days; understand by the law of nature; we apor if you dislike Paul's authority and prehend that you are in a great error, in the manners of antiquity, look into the taking your notions of natural law, as dismore admired accounts of modern voya- coverable by natural reason, from the elegers ;

and examine its influence over gant systems of it, which have been drawn the Pagans of our own times, over the up by Christian philosophers; since they sensual inhabitants of Otaheite, over the have all laid their foundations, either cannibals of New Zealand, or the tacitly or expressly, upon a principle deremorseless savages of America. But · rived from revelation, a thorough knowthese men are Barbarians. Your law of ledge of the being and attributes of God; nature, notwithstanding, extends even and even those amongst ourselves, who, to them :--but they have misused their rejecting Christianity, still continue Thereason ;-they have then the more need ists, are indebted to revelation (whether of, and would be the more thankful for, you are either aware of, or disposed to acthat revelation, which you, with an ig- knowledge the debt, or not) for those subnorant and fastidious self-sufficiency, time speculations concerning the Deity, deem useless. But, they might of them- which you have foadly attributed to the

a

excellency of your own unassisted reason. suit of virtue; yet the bulk of mankind If you would know the real strength of have ever been contented with that scanty natural reason, and how far it can pro- pittance of morality, which enabled them ceed in the investigation or enforcement to escape the lash of civil punishment; I of moral duties, you must consult the call it scanty pittance; because a man manners and the writings of those who inay be intemperate, iniquitous, impious, have never heard of either the Jewish or a thousand ways a profligate and a vilthe Christian dispensation, or of those lain, and yet elude the cognizance, and other manifestations of himself, which avoid the punishment of civil laws. God vouchsafed to Adam and to the

pa- I am sensible you will be ready to triarchs, before and after the food. “It say, what is all this to the purpose ? would be difficult perhaps any where, to though the bulk of mankind may never find a people entirely destitute of tradi- be able to investigate the laws of natural tionary notices concerning a deity, and of religion, nor disposed to reverence their traditionary fears or expectations of an- sanctions when investigated by others, other life; and the morals of mankind nor solicitous about any other standard of may have, perhaps, been no where quite moral rectitude, than civil legislation ; so abandoned, as they would have been, yet the inconveniences which may athad they been left wholly to themselves tend the extirpation of Christianity, can in these points : however, it is a truth, be no proof of its truth.-I have not pro. which cannot be denied, how much so- duced them as a proof of its truth; but ever it may be lamented, that though the they are a strong and conclusive proof, if generality of mankind have always had not of its truth, at least of its utility; and some faint conception of God, and his the consideration of its utility may be a providence; yet they have been always motive to yourselves for examining, whegreatly inefficacious in the production of ther it may not chance to be true; and good morality, and highly derogatory to it ought to be a reason with every good his nature, amongst all the people of the citizen, and with every man of sound earth, except the Jews and Christians; judgment, to keep his opinions to himand some may perhaps be desirous of ex- self, if, from any particular circumstances cepting the Mahometans, who derive all in his studies, or in his education, he should that is good in their Koran from Chris- have the misfortune to think that it is tianity.

not true. If you can discover to the The laws concerning justice, and the rising generation, a better religion than reparation of damages, concerning the the Christian, one that will more effecsecurity of property, and the performance tually animate their hopes, and subdue of contracts; concerning, in short, what- their passions, make them better men, or ever affects the well-being of civil society, better members of society, we importune bave been every where understood with you to publish it for their advantage; sufficient precision; and if you choose to but till you can do that, we beg of you, style Justinian's code a code of natural not to give the reins to their passions, by law, though you will err against propriety instilling into their unsuspicious minds of speech, yet you are so far in the right, your pernicious prejudices : even now, that natural reason discovered, and the men scruple not, by their lawless lust, to depravity of human nature compelled hu- ruin the repose of private families, and to man kind, to establish by proper sanctions fix a stain of infamy on the noblest : the laws therein contained ; and you will even now, they hesitate not, in lifting up have moreover Carneades, no mean philo- a murderous arm against the life of their sopher, on your side; who knew of no law friend, or against their own, as often as of nature, different from that which men · the fever of intemperance stimulates their had instituted for their common utility; resentment, or the satiety of an useless and which was various according to the life excites their despondency: even manners of men in different climates, and now, whilst we are persuaded of a resurchangeable with a change of times in the rection from the dead, and of a judgment same. And in truth, in all countries where to come, we find it difficult enough to Paganism has been the established reli- resist the solicitations of sense, and to gion, though a philosopher may now and escape unspotted from the licentious then have stepped beyond the paltry pre- manners of the world : But what will script of civil jurisprudence, in his pure become of our virtue, what of the conse

L

a

a

11

si in P m P

V

i:

с

quent peace and happiness of society, if suaded of the truth of what they say. you persuade us, that there are no such They have made no deep examination; things ? in two words,- you may ruin they have learned some few objections, yourselves by your attempt, and you will which they are perpetually making a certainly ruin your country by your suc- noise with; they speak from a principle cess.

of ostentation, and give themselves the But the consideration of the inutility of lie in the time of danger.-Vanity has a your design, is not the only one, which greater share in their disputes, than conshould induce you to abandon it: the ar- science; they imagine, that the singugument a tulo ought to be warily ma- larity and boldness of the opinions which naged, or it may tend to the silencing they maintain, will give them the repuour opposition to any system of super- tation of men of parts:--by degrees, they stition, wbich has had the good fonune get a habit of holding impious discourses; to be sanctioned by public authority; and if their vanily be accompanied by a it is, indeed, liable to no objection in voluptuous lise, their progress in that road the present case; we do not, however, is the swister.' wholly rely upon its cogency. It is not The main stress of your objections, contended, that Christianity is to be re- rests not upon the insufficiency of the ceived, merely because it is useful : but external evidence to the truth of Chrisbecause it is true. This you deny, and tianity; for few of you, though you may think your objections well grounded; we become the future ornaments of the seconceive them originating in your vanity, nate, or of the bar, have ever employed your immorality, or your misapprehen- an hour in its examination; but it rests sion. There are many worthless doc- upon the difficulty of the doctrines contrines, many superstitious observances, tained in the New Testament: they exwhich the fraud or the folly of mankind ceed, you say, your comprehension; and have every where annexed to Christianity, you felicitate yourselves, that you are not

, (especially in the church of Rome) as es- yet arrived at ihe true standard of orthosential parts of it; if you take these sorry dox faith,--credo quia impossibile. You appendages to Christianity, for Christi- think, it would be taking a superfluous anity itself, as preached by Christ, and trouble, to inquire into the nature of the by the apostles; if you confound the external proofs, by which Christianity is Roman with the Christian religion, you established : since, in your opinion, the quite misapprehend its nature; and are book itself carries with it its own refutain a state similar to that of men, (men- tion. A gentleman as acute, probably, tioned by Plutarch, in his treatise of su

of

you, and who once believed, perstition) who, flying from supersti- perhaps, as little as any of you, has tion, leapt over religion, and sunk into drawn a quite different conclusion from downright atheism.-Christianity is not the perusal of the New Testament; his a religion very palatable to a voluptuous book, (however exceptionable it may be age; it will not conform its precepts to thought in some particular parts) exhi. the standard of fashion ; it will not bits, not only a distinguished triumph of lessen the deformity of vice by lenient reason over prejudice, of Christianity over appellations ; but calls keeping, whore- Deism; but it exhibits, what is infinitely dom; intrigue, adultery; and duelling, more rare, the character of a man, who murder; it will not pander the lust, has had courage and candour enough to it will not license the intemperance of acknowledge it. mankind; it is a troublesome monitor But what if there should be some into a man of pleasure ; and your way of comprehensible doctrines in the Christian life may have made you quarrel with religion; some circumstances, which in your religion. As to your vanity, as a their causes, or their consequences, surcause of your infidelity, suffer me to pro- pass the reach of human reason; are duce the sentiments of M. Bayle upon they to be rejected upon that account? that head ; if the description does not You are, or would be thougbt, men of suit your character, you will not be of reading, and knowledge, and enlarged fended at it: and if you are offended with understanding; weigla ihe matter fairly; its freedom, it will do you good: This and consider whether revealed religion be

• inelines me to believe, that libertines, not, in this respect, just upon the same like Des-Barreaux, are not greatly per- footing with every other object of your

as any

contemplation. Even in mathematics, Newton's, by an hypothesis of his own, the science of demonstration itself, though still less delensible than that which he you get over its first principles, and learn opposes :- Tous les jours que je vois de to digest the idea of a point without parts, ces esprits-forts, qui critiquent les vérités

, a line without breadth, and a surface de notre religion, et s'en mocquent mèine without thickness; yet you will find avec la plus impertinente suffisance, yourselves at a loss to comprehend the je pense, chétifs mortels ! combien et perpetual approximation of lines, which combien des choses sur lesquels vous can never meet; the doctrine of incom- raisonnez si légèrement, sont-elles plus mensurables, and of an infinity of infini- sublimes, et plus elevés, que celles sur ties, each infinitely greater, or infinitely lesquelles le grand Newton s'égare si less, not only than any finite quantity, grossièrement ? but than each other. Io physics, you

Plato mentions a set of men, who were cannot comprehend the primary cause of very ignorant, and thought themselves any thing; not of the light, by which you supremely wise; and who rejected the see; nor of the elasticity of the air, by argument for the being of a God, derived which you hear; nor of the fire, by which from the harmony and order of the uniyou are warmed. In physiology, you verse, as old and trite; there have been cannot tell, what first gave motion to the men, it seems, in all ages, who, in affectheart; nor what continues it; nor why ing singularity, have overlooked truth : its motion is less voluntary than that of an argument, however, is not the worse the lungs: nor why you are able to move for being old; and surely it would have your arm, to the right or left, by a sim- been a more just mode of reasoning, if ple volition : you cannot explain, the you had examined the external evidence cause of animal heat; nor comprehend for the truth of Christianity, weighed the the principle, by which your body was old arguments from miracles, and from at first sormed, nor by which it is sus prophecies, before you had rejected the tained, nor by which it will be reduced whole account, from the difficulties you to earth.

In natural religion, you can- met with in it. You would laugh at an not comprehend the eternity or omni- Indian, who in peeping into a history of presence of the Deity; nor easily un- England, and meeting with the mention derstand, how his prescience can be con- of the Thames being frozen, or of a sistent with your freedom, or his immu- shower of hail, or of snow, should tability with his government of moral throw the book aside, as unworthy of agents ; nor why he did not make all his his further notice, from his want of creatures equally perfect: nor why he ability to comprehend these phænodid not create them sooner: In short, mena. you cannot look into any branch of In considering the argument from miknowledge, but you will meet with sub- racles, you will soon be convinced, that jects above your comprehension. The it is possible for God to work miracles; fall and the redemption of human kind, and you will be convinced, that it is as are not more incomprehensible, than the possible for human testimony to establish creation and the conservation of the uni- the truth of miraculous, as of physical or verse; the infinite author of the works historical events; but before you can be of Providence, and of nature, is equally convinced that the miracles in question inscrutable, equally past our finding out are supported by such testimony as deserves in them both. And it is somewhat re- to be credited, you must inquire at what markable, that the deepest inquirers period, and by what persons, the books of into nature, have ever thought with most the Old and New Testament were comreverence, and spoken with most con- posed; if you reject the account, without fidence, concerning those things, which, making this examination, you reject it froin in revealed religion, may seem hard to be prejudice, not from reason. understood; they have ever avoided There is, however, a short method of that self-sufficiency of knowledge, which examining this argument, which may springs from ignorance, produces indiffe- perhaps make as great an impression on rence, and ends in infidelity. Admira- your minds, as any other. Three inen ble to this purpose, is the reflection of of distinguished abilities, rose up at diffuthe greatest mathematician of the present rent times, and attacke.1 Christianity age, when he is combating an opinion of with every objection which their malice

L

a

could suggest, or their learning could concerning the predictions of sacred, devise; but neither Celsus in the second than concerning the oracles of Pagan century, nor Porphyry in the third, nor history. Or, if you have ever cast a glance the emperor Julian himself in the fourth upon this subject

, the dissentions of century, ever questioned the reality of the learned men concerning the proper inmiracles related in the gospels. Do butterpretation of the revelation, and other you grant us what these men (who were difficult prophecies, may have made you more likely to know the truth of the rashly conclude, that all prophecies were matter, than you can be) granted to their equally unintelligible ; and more indebtadversaries, and we will very readily leted, for their accomplishment, to a foryou make the most of the magic, to tunate concurrence of events, and the which, as the last wretched shist, they pliant ingenuity of the expositor, than to were forced to attribute them. We can the inspired foresight of the prophet. In find you men, in our days, who from the all that the prophets of the Old Testamixture of two colourless liquors, will ment have delivered, concerning the deproduce you a third as red as blood, or of struction of particular cities, and the deany other colour you desire; et dicto solation of particular kingdoms, you may cilius, by a drop resembling water, will see nothing but shrewd conjectures, restore the transparency; they will make which any one acquainted with the histwo fluids coalesce into a solid body; tory of the rise and fall of empires, and from the mixture of liquors colder might certainly have made: and as you than ice, will instantly raise you a horrid would not hold him for a prophet, who explosion and a tremendous flame: these, should now affirm, that London or Paris and twenty other tricks they will per- would afford to future ages a spectacle form, without having been sent with just as melancholy, as that which we our Saviour to Egypt to learn magic; now contemplate, with a sigh, in the nay, with a bottle or two of oil, they ruins of Agrigentum or Palmyra; so you will compose

the undulations of a lake; cannot persuade yourselves to believe, and by a little art, they will restore the that the denunciations of the prophets functions of life to a man, who has been against the haughty cities of Tyre or Baan hour or two under water, or a day bylon, for instance, proceeded from the or two buried in the snow: but in vain inspiration of the Deity. There is no will these men, or the greatest magician doubt, that by some such general kind of that Egypt ever saw, say to a boisterous reasoning, many are influenced to pay no sea,

“ Peace, be still;" in vain will they attention to an argument, which, if prosay to a carcass rotting in the grave, perly considered, carries with it the strong“Come forth;" the winds and the sea est conviction. will not obey them, and the putrid car- Spinoza said, That he would have cass will not hear them. You need not broken his atheistic system to pieces, and suffer yourselves to be deprived of the embraced without repugnance the ordiweight of this argument, from its hav- nary faith of Christians, if he could have ing been observed, that the Fathers have persuaded himself of the resurrection of acknowledged the supernatural part of Lazarus from the dead ; and I question Paganism; since the Fathers were in no not, that there are many disbelievers, condition to defeat a cheat, which was who would relinquish their deistic tenets, supported both by the disposition of the and receive the gospel, if they could perpeople, and the power of the civil magis- suade themselves, that God had ever so trate; and they were, from that inability, far interfered in the moral government forced to attribute to infernal agency what of the world, as to illumine the mind of was too cunningly contrived to be detect- any one man with the knowledge of fued, and contrived for too impious a pur- ture events. A miracle strikes the senses pose, to be credited as the work of of the persons who see it; a prophecy adGod.

dresses itself to the understandings of With respect to prophecy, you may, those who behold its completion; and it perhaps, bave accustomed yourselves to requires, in many cases, some learning, in consider it as originating in Asiatic en- all some attention, to judge of the correthusiasm, in Chaldean mystery, or in the spondence of events with the predictions subtle stratagem of interested priests: and concerning them. No one can be conhave given yourselves no more trouble vinced, that what Jeremiah and the other

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »