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and inadequate instruments should be able to produce and establish a religion so opposed to the vices, the passions, and the interests of the world, and of a character so transcendent and sublime; to suppose that these poor and despised men should produce a revolution more important and extensive than any which has ever resulted from the best directed energies of the powers of this world ; to suppose that, untaught and ignorant as they were, they had excluded from their system of theology, all those tenets of nominal virtue which had been universally admitted into the theories of human philosophy, and selected and adopted those precepts of real virtue which human philosophy had universally rejected or contemned; to suppose that they had triumphed over “ the power “ of princes, the intrigues of states, the force of “ custom, the blindness of zeal, the fury of fana
ticism, the influence of priests, the ambition, the
pleasures, the prejudices, the vices of men;" to suppose that all this was undertaken and performed by such agents, without the aid of supernatural assistance, and solely by their own capacity and power; and to suppose, further, that they " became impostors “ for no assignable reason than the propagation of “ truth;" deceivers, only to teach singleness of heart and undeviating honesty; pretenders, merely to decry hypocrisy and pretence; missionaries of imposture, for no purpose but to expose themselves to contempt, hostility, and persecution; and martyrs, in the full sense of the word, without a single expectation to sustain and impel them, of advantage or of honour in this world, or of acceptance and happiness in the next; to suppose all this to have occurred, would surely require a credulity incomparably more easy of belief, than the faith, in its wildest extent, with
which the Christain embraces the truths and mysteries of the Gospel.
The sceptic may possibly ask, What have been the fruits of the religion itself; and what is the religion if the fruits have been few?-But the fruits have not been few. Every other religion was made for the world; the Christian religion against it. Every other religion was compatible with the little, miserable, and contemptible interests of this life; the Christian religion is at variance with, and has rebuked them all. Every other religion has been supported by fraud, by policy, by fanaticism, or by the sword; the Christian religion, utterly averting itself from such support, sought and seeks to derive its influence solely from candid inquiry and rational conviction, and the purity, the holiness, and the utility of its tenets. It might, therefore, have been expected, that this religion would be longer retarded in its progress, and more obstructed in its influence. Yet the effects produced by the Gospel, on the moral condition of mankind, were early visible and important. Before the lights which it diffused, many
of the worst errors and the worst vices which had been fostered by the ignorance and depravity of the world, vanished away. The impure altar was deserted. The Pagan temple was closed. The indecent ceremony ceased. The fanatic was no longer to appease his gods by human blood. The despotism and capriciousness of divorce, so injurious to public and private manners, was to be exercised no more. The wanton riot, and the lascivious revelry, were to give way to a holy and spiritual devotion ; and the Christian was to exhibit, in his practice, a charity, a piety, a resignation, a temperance, a purity, which afforded the best testimony of the excellence of his faith, and the dignity of his motives, and were admitted and extolled by the heathen himself. In these times, indeed, the Gospel may produce no such evidence of its influence and power. But the cause is easily to be explained. Men no longer feel the same fervor, nor are governed by the same persua. sions, nor are elevated by the same views. The creed of the world is permitted to mingle with and to adulterate the creed of their faith, and their hearts are divided between the service of God and the slavery of Mammon. Something, however, still remains to attest the efficacy and the excellence of the religion of Christ. The genius and temper of his dispensation have penetrated into the cabinets of kings, have mitigated the ferocity of war, have softened the condition of the captive, have opposed the persecution of the sword, and have infused into the bosom of civilized life, a milder, more gracious, and more liberal spirit. Wherever they have been permitted to operate, they have disciplined manners, corrected modes, facilitated intercourse, and promoted the advancement of human intellect. All Europe, that is, the most enlightened part of the globe, has derived, from their impulse, an accelerated progress towards moral, civil, and literary improvement. And, if the fetters of the slave be less galling, and the disposition of rule less oppressive, and the authority of laws more happily and temperately exercised, and the spirit of civilization more widely diffused; we may trace the revolution, directly or remotely, to the wise, the generous, and the beneficent principles, which it has been the perpetual tendency of the New Covenant to cherish among all orders and conditions of men.
period of their most perfect influence, were the result? Did they improve the condition of mankind ? Did they promote social or individual benevolence ? Did they soften the manners of private, or the intercourse of public life? Did they diffuse or sanction a pure and a generous morality? Did they instruct men in the nature of God, and in the worship which he requires ? On the contrary, they corrupted all principle and vitiated all society; and the very tenets which they most anxiously enforced, were, in numerous instances, directly opposed to the welfare and improvement of the world. But of Christianity, and of Christianity alone, it may be said, that it is calculated, with inimitable wisdom, to check the vices, and to correct and discipline the passions of mankind; and that, were it universally adopted and obeyed, it would finally renovate the corrupted nature of man, and renew the image of God in which he was formed, and which his sins have defaced. What is the spirit which it breathes, but the spirit of peace, gentleness, truth, justice, and holiness? What is the natural tendency of such a spirit, but to subdue the competitions, appease the wrath, extinguish the malice, and pacify the hostilities of human life? Did it possess the heart of kings; how would the charities of brotherhood flow from the throne, in kindly and beneficent influence, to the last and lowest of the people! Did the people yield to its guidance; how would they be softened and subdued into a happier obedience to the laws, and a more peaceable submission to the unavoidable evils of their subordinate condition*! Did all em-. brace it ; how would the Angel of the Covenant extend his reign over the earth, and the discords, and tumults, and enmities of the world, subside into the blessed calm of peace, of unanimity, and of love *!
* Ce serojent des citoyens infiniment eclairés sur leur devoirs, et qui auroient un tres grand zele pour les remplir: ils sentiroient
We are possessed, then, of a religion, which, in its structure and excellence, in the character and conduct of its Founders, in the whole history of its promulgation and establishment, and in the genius, the temper, and the tendency, by which it is distinguished, appears to be impressed with the marks of supernatural interposition. It was regarded as a stumbling-block by the Jew, and as foolishness by the Greek, yet it unspeakably transcends all that the Greek with his philosophy and his schools, and even the Jew with his Pentateuch and his prophets, had been able to attain. That which had been rendered necessary by the vices and absurdities of other religions, it has supplied. That which so many sages of so many centuries had been unable to conceive, it has communicated. It has more than fulfilled the brightest visions of the prophets; and the feeble lights which gladdened the heart and the hope of the Patriarch, it has converted into full day. Do we, here, discover any evidence of imposture and deceit? Any indication of priestly fraud ? Any proof
tres bien les droits de la defence naturelle; plus ils croiroient devoir a la religion, plus ils penseroient devoir a la patrie. Les principes du Christianisme bien gravés dans le cæur seroient infiniment plus forts, que ce faux honneur des monarchies, ces vertus humaines des republiques, et cette crainte servile des etats despotiques. De l'Esprit des Loix, Livre xxiv. chap. 6.
* I willingly quote the philosopher again. “ Chose admirable! la religion Chretienne, qui ne semble avoir d'objet que la felicité de l'autre vie, fait encore notre bonheur dans celle-ci. Ibid.