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frequently to recall his converts to the ordinary labours and domestick duties of their condition; and to give them, in his own example, a lesson of contented application to their worldly employments.
By the manner in which the religion is now proposed, a great portion of the human species is enabled, and of these, multitudes of every generation are induced, to seek and to effectuate their salvation through the medium of Christianity, without interruption of the prosperity or of the regular course of human affairs.
The supposed Effects of Christianity.
THAT a religion, which, under every form in which it is taught, holds forth the final reward of virtue and punishment of vice, and proposes those distinctions of virtue and vice, which the wisest and most cultivated part of mankind confess to be just, should not be believed, is very possible; but that, so far as it is believed, it should not produce any good, but rather a bad effect upon publick happiness, is a proposition, which it requires very strong evidence to render credible. Yet many have been found to contend for this paradox, and very confident appeals have been made to history, and to observation, for the truth of it.
In the conclusions, however, which these writers draw from what they call experience, two sources, I think, of mistake, may be perceived.
One is, that they look for the influence of religion in the wrong place.
The other, that they charge Christianity with many consequences, for which it is not responsible.
I. The influence of religion is not to be sought for in the councils of princes, in the debates or resolutions of popular assemblies, in the conduct of governments towards their subjects, or of states and sovereigns towards one another; of conquerors at the head of their armies, or of parties intriguing for power at home (topicks, which alone almost occupy the attention, and fill the pages of history); but must be perceived, if perceived at all, in the silent course of private and domestick life. Nay more; even there its influence may not be very obvious to observation. If it check, in some degree, personal dissoluteness, if it beget a general probity in the transaction of business, if it produce soft and humane manners in the mass of the community, and occasional exertions of laborious or expensive benevolence in a few individuals, it is all the effect which can offer itself to external notice. The kingdom of heaven is within us. That which is the substance of the religion, its hopes and consolations, its intermixture with the thoughts by day and by night, the devotion of the heart, the control of appetite, the steady direction of the will to the commands. of God, is necessarily invisible. Yet upon these depend the virtue and the happiness of millions. This cause
renders the representations of history, with respect to religion, defective and fallacious, in a greater degree than they are upon any other subject. Religion operates most upon those of whom history knows the least; upon fathers and mothers in their families, upon men servants and maid servants, upon the orderly tradesman, the quiet villager, the manufacturer at his loom, the husbandman in his fields. Amongst such, its influence collectively may be of inestimable value, yet its effects in the mean time little, upon those who figure upon the stage of the world. They may know nothing of it; they may believe nothing of it; they may be actuated by motives more impetuous than those
which religion is able to excite. It cannot, therefore, be thought strange, that this influence should elude the grasp and touch of publick history; for, what is publick history, but a register of the successes and disappointments, the vices, the follies, and the quarrels of those who engage in contentions for power?
I will add, that much of this influence may be felt in times of publick distress, and little of it in times of publick wealth and security. This also increases the uncertainty of any opinions that we draw from historical representations. The influence of Christianity is commensurate with no effects which history states. We do not pretend that it has any such necessary and irresistible power over the affairs of nations, as to surmount the force of other causes.
The Christian religion also acts upon publick usages and institutions, by an operation which is only secondary and indirect. Christianity is not a code of civil law. It can only reach publick institutions through private character. Now its influence upon private character may be consider. able, yet many publick usages and institutions, repugnant to its principles, may remain. To get rid of these, the reigning part of the community must act, and act together. But it may be long before the persons, who compose this body, be sufficiently touched with the Christian character, to join in the suppression of practices, to which they and the publick have been reconciled, by causes which will reconcile the human mind to any thing, by habit and interest. Nevertheless, the effects of Christianity, even in this view, have been important. It has mitigated the conduct of war, and the treatment of captives. It has softened the administration of despotick, or of nominally despotick, governments. It has abolished polygamy. It has restrained the licentiousness of divorces. It has put an end to the exposure of children, and the immolation of slaves. It has suppressed
the combats of gladiators*, and the impurities of religious rites. It has banished, if not unnatural vices, at least the toleration of them. It has greatly meliorated the condition of the laborious part, that is to say, of the mass of every community, by procuring for them a day of weekly rest. In all countries, in which it is professed, it has produced numerous establishments for the relief of sickness and poverty: and, in some, a regular and general provision by law. It has triumphed over the slavery established in the Roman empire it is contending, and, I trust, will one day prevail, against the worse slavery of the West Indies.
A Christian writert, so early as in the second century, has testified the resistance which Christianity made to wicked and licentious practices, though established by law and by publick usage:" Neither in Parthia, do the Christians, though Parthians, use polygamy; nor in Persia, though Persians, do they marry their own daughters; nor among the Bactri, or Galli, do they violate the sanctity of marriage; nor wherever they are, do they suffer themselves to be overcome by ill-constituted laws and manners.”
Socrates did not destroy the idolatry of Athens, or produce the slightest revolution in the manners of his country.
But the argument to which I recur, is, that the benefit of religion being felt chiefly in the obscurity of private stations, necessarily escapes the observation of history. From the first general notification of Christianity to the present day, there have been in every age many millions, whose names were never heard of, made better by it, not only in their conduct, but in their disposition; and happier, not so
* Lipsius affirms, (Sat. B. I. c. 12.) that the gladiatorial shows sometimes cost Europe twenty or thirty thousand lives in a month; and that not only the men, but even the women of all ranks, were passionately fond of these shows. See bishop Porteus's Sermon XIII.
Bardesanes, ap. Euseb. Præp. Evang, vi, 10.
much in their external circumstances, as in that which is inter præcordia, in that which alone deserves the name of happiness, the tranquillity and consolation of their thoughts. It has been, since its commencement, the author of happiness and virtue to millions and millions of the human race. Who is there that would not wish his son to be a Christian?
Christianity also, in every country in which it is professed, hath obtained a sensible, although not a complete influence, upon the publick judgment of morals. And this is very important. For without the occasional correction which publick opinion receives, by referring to some fixed standard of morality, no man can foretel into what extravagances it might wander. Assassination might become as honourable as duelling: unnatural crimes be accounted as venial, as fornication is wont to be accounted. In this way it is possible, that many may be kept in order by Christianity, who are not themselves Christians. They may be guided by the rectitude which it communicates to publick opinion. Their consciences may suggest their duty truly, and they may ascribe these suggestions to a moral sense, or to the native capacity of the human intellect, when in fact they are nothing more than the publick opinion, reflected from their own minds and opinion, in a considerable degree, modified by the lessons of Christianity. "Certain it is, and this is a great deal to say, that the generality, even of the meanest and most vulgar and ignorant people, have truer and worthier notions of God, more just and right apprehensions concerning his attributes and perfections, a deeper sense of the difference of good and evil, a greater regard to moral obligations and to the plain and most necessary duties of life, and a more firm and universal expectation of a future state of rewards and punishments, than, in any heathen