« ZurückWeiter »
heathens was not known, nor could be known to any but philosophers. The common people were incapable of that penetration and labour, which the investigating of truth, and the distinguishing it from that falsehood, in which passion and prejudice had enveloped it, required. A mediocrity of genius, I allow, is sufficient for the purpose of inferring a part of those consequences from the works of nature, of which we form the body of natural religion : but none, but geniuses of the first order, are capable of kenning those distant consequences, which are infolded in darkness. The bulk of mankind wanted a short way, proportional to every mind. They wanted an authority, the infallibility of which all mankind might easily see. They wanted a revelation, founded on evidence, plain and obvious to all the world. Philosophers could not show the world such a short way : but revelation hath showed it. No philosopher could assume the authority, necessary to establish such a way : It became God alone to dictate in such a manner, and in revelation he hath done it.
SOCRATES AND JESUS COMPARED. I will confess to you, that the majesty of the Scrip. tures strike me with admiration, as the purity of the gospel hath its influence on my heart. Peruse the works of our philosophers with all their pomp of diction; how mean, how contemptible are they, compared with the Scripture! Is it possible that a book, at once so simple and sublime, should be merely the work of man? Is it possible that the sacred personage, whose history it contains, should be himself a mere man? Do we find, that he assumed the tone of an enthusiast or ambitious sectary? What sweetness, what purity in his manner! What an affecting gracefulness in his delivery! What sublimity in his maxims ! What profound wisdom in his discourses ! What presence of mind, what subtlety, what truth in his replies ! How great the command over his passions! Where is the man, where the philosopher, who could so live, and so die, without weakness, and without ostentation? When Plato described his imaginary good man loaded with all the shame of guilt, yet meriting the highest rewards of vir- tue, he describes exactly the character of Jesus Christ: the resemblance was so striking, that all the fathers perceived it.
What prepossession, what blindness must it be, to compare the son of Soproniscus to the son of Mary! What an infinite disproportion is there between them! Socrates, dying without pain or ignominy, easily supported his character to the last; and if his death, however easy, had not crowned his life, it might have been doubted whether Socrates, with all his wisdom, was any thing more than a vain sophist. He invented, it is said, the theory of morals. Others, however, had before put them in practice; he had only to say, therefore, what they had done, and to reduce their examples to precepts. Aristides had been just, before Socrates defined justice: Leonidas had given up his life for his country, before Socrates
declared patriotism to be a duty; the Spartans were a sober people, before Socrates recommend. ed 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 philoso-, phizing with his friends, appears the most agreeable that could be wished for; that of Jesus, ex-, piring 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.
MAHOMET AND JESUS, AS PROPHETS COMPARED. TAE 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 at. tended 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 supposi. tion 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