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who either are or have been guilty of this most dangerous crime; and I would also no less earnestly caution all those who have not yet been guilty of it, to avoid, with the utmost care, every degree of it, and every appreach to it. It is a crime often touched upon in holy writ, but less noticed, or at least less enlarged upon by divines, and moralists than perhaps any other sin of the same magnitude. For this reason, I shall enter more fully into the consideration of it than has hitherto, I believe, been usually done, and shall advert briefly to the several modes of making our brother to offend, that is, to renounce his faith in Christ, which are most common and most successful; and these are persecution, sophistry, ridicule, immoral examples, and immoral publica tions.
With respect to the first of these, persecution; it was, during the first ages of the gospel, and for many years after the reformation, the great rock of offence, the chief instrument made use of (and a dreadful one it was) to deter men from embracing the faith of Christ, or to compel them to renounce it. But since that time we have heard little of its terrors, till they were some years ago revived, to a certain degree, in a neighbouring nation, where the various cruelties inflicted on their clergy are too well known, and cannot surely be ascribed altogether and exclusively to political causes.
In our own country, it must be acknowledged, we cannot justly be charged with this species of guilt. Intolerance and persecution are certainly not in the num ber of our national sins. But in the next mode of making our brother to offend; that is, by grave argument and reason, by open and systematic attacks on the truth and divine authority of the Christian revelation, in this we have, I fear, a large load of responsibility upon our heads.
It has even been assumed by some, that we are entitled to the distinction of having led the way to this kind of impiety and profaneness. We have this honour given to us (for an honour they esteem it) by for.
eign writers, and what is worst of all, we are applauded for it by such men as D'Alembert and Voltaire.
To be stigmatized with their praise, and for such a reason, is a disgrace indeed; and it would be a still greater, if we could not justly disclaim and throw back from ourselves the humiliating and ignominious applause which they would inflict upon us. But this I apprehend we may effectually do. There appears to me sufficient ground for asserting, that the earliest infidels of modern times were to be found, not in this isl and, but on the continent. If we may credit the account given of Peter Aretin (who lived and wrote in the fourteenth century) by Moreri, and particularly the epitaph upon him, which he recites, there is reason to believe that he was an infidel of the worst species; and Viret a divine of great eminence among the first reformers, who wrote about the year 1563, speaks of a number of persons, both in France and Italy, who had assumed the name of Deists, and seem to have formed themselves into a sect. But it was not until the beginning of the following century that any men of that description, or any publications hostile to revelation, appeared in this kingdom. From that time indeed down to the present, there has been a regular succession of anti-christian writers of various descriptions, whose uniform object has been to subvert the foundations of revealed religion, and to make their countrymen offend, and renounce their faith. The last of these was a man, who, from the lowest origin, raised himself to some distinction in the political and literary world, by his bold and impious libels against government, against religion, and the holy Scriptures themselves. In these writings were concentrated all the malignity, all the shrewdness, all the sophistry of his numerous predecessors; and from their brevity, their plainness, their familiarity, their vulgar ribaldry, their bold assertions, and artful misrepresentations, they were better calculated to impose on the ignorant and uniformed, and more dangerous to the principles of the great mass of mankind, than any publications that this country, ever be
fore produced. And certain it is, that having been distributed with infinite industry through every district of the kingdom, they did for a time diffuse their poison far and wide, and made a strong and fatal impression on the multitude. But, thanks be to God! they at length providentially met with talents infinitely superior to those of their illiterate author, which, with the blessing of Heaven upon them, gave a sudden and effectual check to the progress of this mischief, and afforded a striking proof of the truth of that prophecy res pecting the stability of our religion, "that the gates of hell shall never prevail against it."
The next great engine of offence, by which multitudes have been led to renounce their faith, is ridicule. An attempt was made early in the last century to erect this into a test of truth, and it has accordingly been applied by many writers since that time to throw discredit on the Christian revelation. But by no one has this weapon been employed with more force and with more success than by the great patriarch of infidelity, Voltaire. It is the principal instrument he makes use of to vilify the Gospel; and among the instructions he gives to his coadjutors and fellow-laborers in this righteous work, one is, to load the Christian religion and the author of it with never-ceasing ridicule, to burlesque it in every way that imagination can suggest, and to deluge the world with an infinity of little tracts, placing revelation in the most ludicrous point of view, and rendering it an object of mirth and of contempt to the lowest of mankind. This method he strictly pursued himself; to this he bent all the powers of his mind, all the vivacity of his wit, all the fire of his imagination; and whoever examines his writings against Christianity with care, will find that much the largest part of them are of this description. And in this he showed a thorough knowledge of the world. He knew that mankind in general prefer wit to logic, and love to be entertained rather than convinced; that it is much easier to point an epigram than to produce an argument; that few can reason justly, but that all the
world can be made to laugh; and that whatever can be rendered an object of derision, is almost sure to be rejected without examination. Of all these artifices he has availed himself with infinite address, and we know also with fatal success. His writings have unquestionably produced more infidels among the higher classes, and spread more general corruption over the world, than all the voluminuous productions of all the other philosophists of Europe put together.
There is still another way of making our brother to offend, or in other words of shaking his faith in the Gospel, and that is by exhibiting to mankind in our life and conversation a profligate example.
This in the first place gives the world an unfavourable idea of the religion we profess. It tempts men to think either that we ourselves do not believe it, or that we suppose it consistent with the vices to which we are abandoned; and either of these suppositions must considerably lessen their estimation both of its doctrines and its precepts.
In the next place a wicked example, as we all know, tends to corrupt in some degree every one that lives within its baneful influence; more particularly if it be found in men of high rank, great wealth, splendid talents, profound erudition, or popular characters. The mischief done by any notorious vices in men of this description is inconceivable. It spreads like a pestilence, and destroys thousands in secrecy and silence, of whom the offender himself knows nothing, and whom probably he never meant to injure; and wherever the heart is corrupted, the principle of faith is proportionably weakened, for no man that gives a loose to his passions will choose to have so troublesome a monitor near him as the Gospel. When he has learnt to disregard the moral precepts of that divine volume, it requires but a very slight effort to reject its doctrines, and then to disbelieve the truth of the whole.
A dissolute life then, especially in particular classes of men, is one certain way of making our brother to offend, not only in point of practice but of belief; and
there is another method of producing the same effects, nearly allied to this, and that is immoral publications,
These have the same tendency with bad examples, both in propagating vice and promoting infidelity; but they are still more pernicious; because the sphere of their influence is more extensive.
A bad example, though it operates fatally, operates comparatively within a small circumference. It extends only to those who are near enough to observe it, and fall within the reach of the poisonous infection that it spreads around it; but the contagion of a licentious publication, especially if it be (as it too frequently is) in a popular and captivating shape, knows no bounds; it flies to the remotest corners of the earth; it penetrates the obscure and retired habitations of simplicity and innocence; it makes its way into the cottage of the peasant, into the hut of the shepherd, and the shop of the mechanic; it falls into the hands of all ages, ranks, and conditions; but it is peculiarly fatal to the unsuspecting and unguarded minds of the youth of both sexes; and to them its breath" is poison, and its touch is death."
What then have they to answer for who are every day obtruding these publications on the world, in a thousand different shapes and forms, in history, in biography, in poems, in novels, in dramatic pieces? in all which the prevailing feature is universal philanthropy and indiscriminate benevolence; under the protection of which the hero of the piece has the privilege of committing whatever irregularities he thinks fit; and while he is violating the most sacred obligations, insinuating the most licentious sentiments, and ridiculing every thing that looks like religion, he is nevertheless held up as a model of virtue; and though he may perhaps be charged with a few little venial foibles, and pardonable infirmities, (as they are called) yet we are assured that he has notwithstanding the very best heart in the world. Thus it is that the principles of our youth are insensibly and almost unavoidably corrupted; and instead of being inspired, as they ought to be, even upon the