Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

notice of reflecting minds. They knew the rule; but the act, under its grosser and more deliberate forms only, was thought to violate it. Among the Romans, men were murdered in their very pastimes, by being made to fight with wild beasts and with each other; and though this was sometimes condemned as a "spectaculum crudele et inhumanum," yet the passion for blood increased, and no war ever caused so great a slaughter as did the gladiatorial combats. They were at first confined to the funerals of great persons. The first show of this kind exhibited in Rome by the Bruti on the death of their father, consisted of three couples, but afterward the number greatly increased. Julius Cesar presented 300 pairs of gladiators; and the Emperor Trajan, 10,000 of them for the entertainment of the people. Sometimes these horrid exhibitions, in which, as Seneca says, Homo, sacra res, homo jam per lusum et jocum occiditur," when the practice had attained its height, deprived Europe of 20,000 lives in one month. (3)

[ocr errors]

This is farther illustrated by the treatment of slaves, which composed so large a portion of the population of ancient states. (4) They knew and acknowledged the evil of murder, and had laws for its punishment; but to this despised class of human beings they did not extend the rule; nor was killing them accounted murder, any more than the killing of a beast. The master had absolute power of life, or death, or torture; and their lives were therefore sacrificed in the most wanton manner.

(5)

By various sophistries, suggested by their vices, their selfishness, and their cruelty, the destruction of children also, under certain circumstances, ceased to be regarded as a crime. In many heathen nations it was allowed to destroy the foetus in the womb; to strangle, or drown,

(3) Though Cicero, Seneca, and others, condemned these barbarities, it was in so incidental and indifferent a manner as to produce no effect. They were abolished soon after the establishment of Christianity, and this affords an illustration of the admission of Rousseau himself. "La philosophie ne peut faire aucun bien, que la Religion ne le fasse encore mieux et la Religion en fait beaucoup que la philosophie ne sauroit faire."

(4) In the 110th Olympiad, there were at Athens only 21,000 citizens and 40,000 slaves. It was common for a private citizen of Rome to have 10 or 20,000. (TAYLOR'S Civil Law.)

(5) The youth of Sparta made it their pastime frequently to lie in ambush by night for the slaves, and sally out with daggers upon every Helot who came near them, and murder him in cold blood. The EPHORI, as soon as they entered upon their office, declared war against them in form, that there might be an appearance of destroying them legally. It was the custom for Vedius Pollio, when his slaves had committed a fault, sometimes a very trifling one, to order them to be thrown into his fish ponds, to feed his lampreys. It was the constant custom, as we learn from Tacitus, Annal. xiv, 43, when a master was murdered in his own house, to put all the slaves to death indiscriminately. For a just and affecting. account of the condition of slaves in ancient states, see PORTEUS'S Beneficial Effects of Christianity,

or expose infants, especially if sickly or deformed; and that which in Christian states is considered as the most atrocious of crimes, was, by the most celebrated of ancient pagan nations, esteemed a wise and political expedient to rid the state of useless or troublesome members, and was even enjoined by some of their most celebrated sages and legislators. The same practice continues to this day in a most affecting extent, not only among uncivilized pagans, but among the Hindoos and the Chinese.

This practice of perverting and narrowing the extent of the holy law of God, which had been transmitted to them, was exemplified also in the allowing, or rather commending the practice of suicide.

Doubtless, the primitive law against murder condemned also HATRED and REVENGE. Our Lord restored it to its true meaning among the Jews; and that it was so understood even among the ancient heathens, is clear from a placable and forgiving spirit being sometimes praised, and the contrary censured, by their sages, moralists, and poets. Yet not only was the rule violated almost universally in practice; but it was also disputed and denied in many of its applications by the authority of their wise and learned men; so that, as far as the authority of moral teachers went, a full scope was given for the indulgence of hatred, malice, and insatiate revenge. One of the qualities of the good man described by Cicero is, that he hurts no one, except he be injured himself. "Qui nemini nocet, nisi lacessitus injuriâ ;" and he declares as to himself, "sic ulciscar facinora singula quemadmodum a quibusque sum provocatus: I will revenge all injuries, according as I am provoked by any ;" and Aristotle speaks of meekness as a defect, because the meek man will not avenge himself, and of revenge, as "avogwaixoregov μaλλov, a more manly thing." (Moral. 1. 4, c. 11.)

"Thou shalt not commit ADULTERY," was another great branch of the patriarchal law, existing before the Decalogue, as appears from the sacred history. It forbids uncleanness of every kind in thought and deed, and specially guards the sanctity of marriage: nor is there any precept more essential to public morals and to the whole train of personal, social, domestic, and national virtues.

It is not necessary to bring detailed proof of the almost universal, gross, and habitual violation of this sacred law in all pagan nations, both ancient and modern, from its first stages down to crimes waga quoiv. This is sufficiently notorious to all acquainted with the history of the ancient and modern pagan world; and will not be denied by any. It is only requisite to show that they had the law, and that it was weakened and corrupted, so as to render a republication necessary.

The public laws against adultery in almost all heathen states, and the censures of moralists and satirists, are sufficiently in proof that such a law was known; and the higher the antiquity of the times, the more

respect we see paid to chastity, and the better was the practice. Nor was the act only considered by some of their moralists as sinful; but the thought and desire, as may be observed in passages both in Greek and Roman writers. But as to this vice too, as well as others, the practice lowered the rule; and the authority of one lawgiver and moralist being neutralized by another, license was given to unbounded offence.

Divorce, formerly permitted only in cases of adultery, became at length a mere matter of caprice, and that both with Jews and Gentiles; and among the latter adultery was chiefly interpreted as the violation of the marriage covenant by the wife only, or by the man with a married woman, thus leaving the husband a large license of vicious indul. gence. To whoredom and similar vices, lawgivers, statesmen, philosophers, and moralists gave the sanction of their opinions and their practice; which foul blot of ancient heathenism continues to this day, to mark the morals of pagan countries. (6)

In most civilized states the very existence of society, and the natural selfishness of man, led to the preservation of the ancient laws against THEFT and RAPINE, and to the due execution of the statutes made against them; but in this also we see the same disposition to corrupt the original prohibition. It was not extended to strangers or to foreign countries; nor was it generally interpreted to reach to any thing more than flagrant acts of violence. Usury, extortion, and fraud, were rather regarded as laudatory acts, than as injurious to character; and so they continue to be esteemed wherever Christianity has not issued her authoritative laws against injustice in all its degrees. Throughout India, there is said to be scarcely such a thing as common honesty.

[ocr errors]

Another great branch of morality is TRUTH; but on the obvious obligation to speak it, we find the same laxity both of opinion and practice; and in this, heathenism presents a striking contrast to Christianity, which commands us "to speak the truth one to another," and denounces damnation against him that "loves or makes a lie."

(6) Terence says of simple fornication, "Non est scelus, adolescentulum scortari flagitium est." The Spartans, through a principle in the institutions of Lycurgus, which controlled their ancient opinions on this subject, in certain prescribed cases, allowed adultery in the wife; and Plutarch, in his Life of Lycurgus, mentioning these laws, commends them as being made “ φυσικώς και πολιτικώς, according to nature and polity." Callicratides, the Pythagorean, tells the wife that she must bear with her husband's irregularities, since the law allows this to the man and not to the woman. Plutarch speaks to the same purpose in several places of his writings. On the other hand, some of the philosophers condemned adultery; and, in many places, it was punished in the woman with death, in the man with infamy. Still, however, the same vacillation of judgment, and the same limitations, of what they sometimes confess to be the ancient rule and custom, may be observed throughout; but as far as the authority of philosophers went, it was chiefly on the side of vicious practice.

They knew that "tollendum est ex rebus contrahendis omne mendacium, (Cic. de Off. I. iii, n. 81,) no lie was to be used in contracts;" and that an honest man should do and speak nothing in falsehood and with hypocrisy; but they more frequently departed from this rule than enjoined it. The rule of Menander was, "a lie is better than a hurtful truth." Plato says, "he may lie who knows how to do it in a fit season;" and Maximus Tyrius, "that there is nothing decorous in truth, but when it is profitable;" and both Plato and the Stoics frame a jesu. itical distinction between lying with the lips and in the mind. Deceit and falsehood have been therefore the character of all pagan nations, and continue so to be to this day. This is the character of the Chinese, as given by the best authorities; and of the Hindoos it is stated by the most respectable Europeans, not merely missionaries, but by those who have long held official, civil, and judicial situations among them, that their disregard of truth is uniform and systematic. When discovered, it causes no surprise in the one party, or humiliation in the other. Even when they have truth to tell, they seldom fail to bolster it up with some appended falsehoods. (7)

Nor can the force of the argument in favour of the necessity of a direct revelation of the will of God by these facts be weakened by alleging, what is unhappily too true, that where the Christian revelation has been known, great violations of all these rules have been commonly observed; for, not to urge the moral superiority of the worst of Christian states, in all of them the authority and sanction of religion is directed against vice; while among heathens, their religion itself, having been corrupted by the wickedness of man, has become the great instrument of encouraging every species of wickedness. This circumstance so fully demonstrates the necessity of an interposition on the part of God to restore truth to the world, that it deserves a particular consideration.

CHAPTER VIII.

The Necessity of Revelation:-Religions of the Heathen.

THAT the religions which have prevailed among pagan nations have been destructive of morality, cannot be denied.

(7) "It is the business of all," says Sir John Shore, "from the Ryot to the Dewan, to conceal and deceive. The simplest matters of fact are designedly covered with a veil, which no human understanding can penetrate." The prevalence of perjury is so universal, as to involve the judges in extreme perplexity. "The honest men," says Mr. Strachey, "as well as the rogues, are perjured. Even where the real facts are sufficient to convict the offender, the witnesses against him must add others, often notoriously false, or utterly incredible, such as in Europe would wholly invalidate their testimony."

How far the speculative principles which they embodied had this effect, has already been shown; we proceed to their more direct influence. The gloomy superstition which pervaded most of them, fostered ferocious and cruel dispositions.

The horrible practice of offering human sacrifices prevailed throughout every region of the heathen world, to a degree which is almost incredible; and it still prevails in many populous countries where Christianity has not yet been made known. There are incontestable proofs of its having subsisted among the Egyptians, the Syrians, the Persians, the Phenicians, and all the various nations of the east. It was one of the crying sins of the Canaanites. The contagion spread over every part of Asia, Africa, and Europe. The Greeks and Romans, though less involved in this guilt than many other nations, were not altogether unfainted with it. On great and extraordinary occasions, they had recourse to what was esteemed the most efficacious and most meritorious sacrifice that could be offered to the gods, the effusion of human blood. (8) But among more barbarous nations, this practice took a firmer root. The Scythians and Thracians, the Gauls and the Germans, were strongly addicted to it; and our own island, under the gloomy and ferocious despotism of the Druids, was polluted with the religious murder of its inhabitants. In the semi-civilized kingdoms on the western side of Africa, as Dahomy, Ashantee, and others, many thousands fall every year victims to superstition. In America, Montezuma offered 20,000 victims yearly to the sun; and modern navigators have found the practice throughout the whole extent of the vast Pacific Ocean. As for India, the cries of its abominable and cruel superstitions have been sounded repeatedly in the ears of the British public and its legislature; and, including infants and widows, not fewer than 10,000 lives fall a sacrifice to idolatry in our own eastern dominions yearly! (9).

The influence of these practices in obdurating the heart, and disposing it to habitual cruelty, need not be pointed out; but the religions of paganism have been as productive of impurity as of blood.

The Floralia among the Romans were celebrated for four days together by the most shameless actions; and their mysteries in every country, whatever might be their original intent, became horribly corrupt. It was in the temples of many of their deities, and on their religious festivals, that every kind of impurity was most practised; and this con

(8) Plutrarch in the Lives of Themistocles, Marcellus, and Aristides. (Livy 1. 22, c. 57; Florus 1. 1, c. 13; Virg. En. x, 518, xi, 81.)

(9) See Maurice's Indian Antiquities; the writings of Dr. Claudius Buchanan; Ward on the Hindoos; Dubois on Hindoo Manners, &c; Robertson's History of America; Bowditch's Account of Ashantee; Moore's Hindoo Pantheon; and Porteus and Ryan on the Effects of Christianity.

« AnteriorContinuar »