« PreviousContinue »
declared patriotism to be a duty; the Spartans were a sober people, before Socrates recommended sobriety; before he had even defined virtue, Greece abounded in virtuous men. But where could Jesus learn, among his competitors, that pure and sublime morality, of which he only hath given us both precept and example? The greatest wisdom was made known amongst the most bigoted fanaticism, and the simplicity of the most heroic virtues did honour to the vilest people on earth. The death of Socrates, peaceably philosophizing with his friends, appears the most agreeable that could be wished for; that of Jesus, expiring in the midst of agonizing pains, abused, in-、 sulted, and accused by a whole nation, is the most horrible that could be feared. Socrates, in receiving the cup of poison, blessed indeed the weeping executioner who administered it; but Jesus, in the midst of excruciating tortures, prayed for his merciless tormentors. Yes, if the life and death of Socrates were those of a sage, the life and death of Jesus are those of a God. Shall we suppose the evangelic history a mere fiction? Indeed, my friend, it bears not the marks of fiction; on the contrary, the history of Socrates, which nobody presumes to doubt, is not so well attested as that of Jesus Christ. Such a supposition, in fact, only shifts the difficulty without obviating it: it is more inconceivable that a number of persons should agree to write such a history, than that one only should furnish the subject of it. The Jewish authors were incapa-. ble of the diction, and strangers to the morality
contained in the gospel, the marks of whose truth are so striking and inimitable, that the inventor would be a more astonishing character than the hero. Rousseau.
MAHOMET AND JESUS, AS PROPHETS COMPARED. THE gospel had no competitor till the great and successful impostor Mahomet arose. He indeed pretends a commission to all the world, and found means sufficiently to publish his pretences. He asserts his authority upon the strength of revelation, and endeavours to transfer the advantages of the gospel evidence to himself, having that pattern before him to copy after. But with respect to this instance, I persuade myself it can be no very distracting study to determine our choice.
Go to your natural religion; lay before her Mahomet and his disciples arrayed in armour and in blood, riding in triumph over the spoils of thousands and tens of thousands, who fell by his victorious sword; show her the cities which he set in flames, the countries which he ravaged and destroyed, and the miserable distress of all the inhabitants of the earth. When she has viewed him in this scene, carry her into his retirements: show her the prophet's chamber, his concubines and wives; let her see his adultery, and alledge revelation and his divine commission to justify his lust and oppression. When she is tired with this prospect, then show her the blessed Jesus, humble and meek, doing good to all the sons of men, patiently instructing both the ignorant and
the perverse. Let her see him in his most retired privacies: let her follow him to the mount, and hear his devotions and supplications to God. Carry her to his table to view his pure fare and hear his heavenly discourse. Let her see him injured, but not provoked. Let her attend him to the tribunal, and consider the patience with which he endured the scoffs and reproaches of his enemies. Lead her to his cross, and let her view him in the agony of death, and hear his last prayer for his persecutors: Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do!'
When natural religion has viewed both, ask, which is the prophet of God? But her answer we have already had: when she saw part of this scene through the eyes of the centurion who attended at the cross, by him she spoke and said, Truly this man was the son of God.'
THE SUPERIORITY OF CHRISTIAN PHILOSOPHY OVER THE STOICAL.
EPICTETUS often lays it down as a maxim, that it is impossible for one person to be in fault, and another to be the sufferer. This, on the supposition of a future state, will certainly be made true at last; but in the stoical sense and system, is an absolute extravagance. Take any person of plain understanding, with all the feelings of humanity about him, and see whether the subtlest Stoic will ever be able to convince him, that while he is insulted, oppressed, and tortured, he doth not suf
fer. See what comfort it will afford him, to be told, that, if he supports his afflictions and illtreatment with fortitude and patience, death will set him free, and then he and his persecutor will be equally rewarded; will equally lose all personal existence, and return to the elements. How different are the consolations proposed by Christianity, which not only assures its disciples, that they shall rest from their labours in death, but that their works shall follow them; and by allowing them to rejoice in hope, teaches them the most effectual way of becoming patient in tribulation?
The stoical doctrine, that human souls are literally parts of the Deity, was equally shocking and hurtful; as it supposed portions of his being to be wicked and miserable; and by debasing men's ideas of the divine dignity, and teaching them to think themselves essentially as good as he, nourished in their minds an irreligious and fatal presumption. Far differently the Christian system represents mankind, not as a part of the essence, but a work of the hand of God; as created in a state of improvable virtue and happiness; fallen, by an abuse of free will, into sin, misery, and weakness; but redeemed from them by an almighty Saviour; furnished with additional knowledge and strength; commanded to use their best endeavours; made sensible, at the same time, how wretchedly defective they are; yet assured of endless felicity on a due exertion of them. The stoic philosophy insults human nature, and discourages all our attempts, by enjoining and promising a perfection in this life, of
which we feel ourselves incapable. The Christian religion shows compassion to our weakness, by prescribing to us only the practicable task of aiming continually at further improvements, and animates our endeavours, by the promise of a divine aid, equal to every trial.
Specifying thus the errours and defects of so celebrated a system, is an unpleasing employment; but in an age, fond of preferring the guesses of human sagacity before the unerring declarations of God, it seemed on this occasion necessary to observe, that the Christian morality is agreeable to reason and nature; that of the Stoics, for the most part, founded on notions, intelligible to few; and which none could admit, without contradiction to their own hearts. They reasoned, many times, admirably well, but from false principles; and the noblest of their practical precepts, being built on a sandy basis, lay at the mercy of every strong temptation.
Stoicism is indeed in many points inferior to the doctrine of Socrates, which did not teach, that all externals were indifferent; which did teach a future state of recompence; and, agreeably to that, forbad suicide. It doth not belong to the present subject to show, how much even this best system is excelled by Christianity. It is sufficient just to observe, that the author of it died in a profession, which he had always made of his belief in the popular deities, whose superstitions and impure worship were the great source of corruption in the heathen world; and the last words he uttered were a direction to his friend, for the performance of an idolatrous ceremony,