Sayfadaki görseller

then world was not immersed in total darkness, and the candid mind, however interested for Christianity, may be gratified with the reflection that the human understanding was not so wholly enslaved, but that in certain instances it could surmount the prejudices of system, and, casting off the shackles of idolatry, argue up to that supreme of all things, which the historian" Tacitus emphatically defines, SUMMum illud et æternum neque mutabile neque


Now when the mind is settled in the proof of One Supreme Being, there are two several modes of reasoning, by which natural religion may deduce the probability of a future state : one of these results from an examination of the human soul, the other from reflecting on the unequal distribution of happiness in the present life.

Every man who is capable of examining his own faculties, must discern a certain power within him, which is neither coeval with, nor dependent upon his body and its members ; I mean that power of reflection, which we universally agree to seat in the soul: it is not coeval with the body, because we were not in the use and exercise of it, when we were infants ; it is not dependent on it, because it is not subject to the changes which the body undergoes in its passage from the womb to the grave; for instance, it is not destroyed, or even impaired, by amputation of the limbs or members, it does not evaporate by the continual flux and exhalation of the corporeal humours, is not disturbed by motion of the limbs, nor deprived of its powers by their inaction; it is not necessarily involved in the sickness and infirmity of the body, for whilst that is decaying and dissolving away by an incurable disease, the intellectual faculties shall in many cases remain perfect and unimpaired: why, then, should

it be supposed the soul of a man is to die with his body, and accompany it into the oblivious grave, when it did not make its entrance with it into life, nor partook of its decay, its fluctuations, changes, and casualties ?

If these obvious reflections upon the nature and properties of the soul, lead to the persuasion of a future state, the same train of reasoning will naturally discover that the condition of the soul in that future state, must be determined by the merits or demerits of its antecedent life. It has never been the notion of heathen or of deist, that both the good and the evil shall enter upon equal and undistinguished felicity or punishment; no reasoning man could ever conceive that the soul of Nero and the soul of Antoninus in a future state partook of the same common lot; and thus it follows upon the evidence of reason that the soul of man shall be rewarded or punished hereafter, according to his good or evil conduct here; and this consequence is the more obvious, because it does not appear in the moral government of the world, that any such just and regular distribution of rewards and punishments obtains on this side the grave; a circumstance no otherwise to be reconciled to our suitable conceptions of divine justice, than by referring things to the final decision of a judgment to come.

Though all these discoveries are open to reason, let no man conclude that what the reason of a few discovered, were either communicated to, or acknowledged by all: No, the world was dark and grossly ignorant, some indeed have argued well and clearly; others confusedly, and the bulk of mankind not at all; the being of a God, and the unity of that Supreme Being, struck conviction to the hearts of those, who employed their reason coolly and dispassionately in such sublime inquiries; but where

was the multitude meanwhile ? Bewildered with a mob of deities, whom their own fables had endowed with human attributes, passions, and infirmities; whoin their own superstition had deified and enrolled amongst the immortals, till the sacred history of Olympus became no less impure than the journals of a brothel: Many there were, no doubt, who saw the monstrous absurdity of such a system, yet not every one who discerned error could discover truth; the immortality of the soul, a doctrine so harmonious to man's nature, was decried by system and opposed by subtilty; the question of a future state was hung up in doubt, or bandied between conflicting disputants through all the quirks and evasions of sophistry and logic : Philosophy, so called, was split into a variety of sects, and the hypothesis of each enthusiastic founder became the standing creed of his school, which it was an inviolable point of honour never to desert : In this confusion of systems men chose for themselves, not according to conviction, but by the impulse of passion, or from motives of convenience; the voluptuary was interested to dismiss the gods to their repose, that his might not be interrupted by them; and all who wished to have their range of sensuality in this world, without fear or control, readily enlisted under the banners of Epicurus, till his followers out-numbered all the rest ; this was the court-creed under the worst of the Roman emperors, and the whole body of the nation, with few exceptions, adopted it; for what could be more natural, than for the desperate to bury conscience in the grave of atheism, or rush into annihilation by the point of the poniard, when they were weary of existence, and discarded by fortune ? With some it was the standard principle of their sect to doubt, with others to argue every thing; and when

we recollect that Cicero himself was of the New Academy, we have a clue to unravel all the seeming contradictions of his moral and metaphysical sentiments, amidst the confusion of which we are never to expect his real opinion, but within the pale of his own particular school, and that school professed controversy upon every point. I will instance one passage which would have done honour to his sentiments, had he spoke his own language as well as that of the Platonists, whom he is here personatingNec vero Deus, qui intelligitur a nobis, alio modo intelligi potest, quam mens soluta quædam et libera, segregata ab omni concretione mortali, omnia sentiens et movens. Whilst the purest truths were thrown out only as themes for sophistry to cavil at, the mass of mankind resembled a chaos, in which if some few sparks of light glimmered, they only served to cast the general horror into darker shades.

It must not, however, be forgotten, that there was a peculiar people then upon earth, who professed to worship that one Supreme Being, of whose nature and attributes certain individuals only amongst the Gentile nations entertained suitable conceptions.

Whilst all the known world were idolaters by establishment, the Jews alone were Unitarians upon system. Their history was most wonderful, for it undertook to give a relation of things, whereof no human records could possibly be taken, and all who received it for truth, must receive it as the relation of God himself, for how else should men obtain a knowledge of the Creator's thoughts and operations in the first formation of all things ? Ace cordingly we find their inspired historian, after he has brought down his narration to the journal of his own time, holding conferences with God himself, and receiving, through his immediate communication, certain laws and commandments, which he was to

deliver to the people, and according to which they were to live and be governed. In this manner Moses appears as the commissioned legislator of a Theocracy, impowered to work miracles in confirmation of his vicegerent authority, and to denounce the most tremendous punishments upon the nation, so highly favoured, if in any future time they should disobey and fall off from these sacred statutes and ordinances.

A people under such a government, set apart and distinguished from all other nations by means so supernatural, form a very interesting object of our contemplation, and their history abounds in events no less extraordinary and miraculous than the revelation itself of those laws, upon which their constitution was first established: their tedious captivities, their wonderful deliverances, the administration of their priests and prophets, their triumphs and successes, whilst adhering to God's worship, and their deplorable condition, when they corrupted his service with the impurities of the idolatrous nations, whom they drove from their possessions, form a most surprising chain of incidents, to which the „ annals of no other people upon earth can be said to bear resemblance.

Had it suited the all-wise purposes of God, when he revealed himself to this peculiar people, to have made them the instruments for disseminating the knowledge of his true religion and worship over the Gentile world, their office and administration had been glorious indeed; but this part was either not allotted to them, or justly forfeited by their degenerate and abandoned conduct: disobedient and rebellious against God's ordinances, they were so far from propagating these imparted lights to the neighbouring nations, that they themselves sunk into their darkness, and whilst all the land was over-run with

« ÖncekiDevam »