« PreviousContinue »
They might not perhaps come to know much about God; but I am sure they would know as much as any body could teach 'em, an' let 'em skip and go on.
They'd never think of saying their prayers, but then, they would become, what a man would never become if he were to say his prayer till he were black in the face for it-they would become wise, and amiable, and happy; and 'tis a great felicity of nature, that if the germinant bud be not nipped, the full expanded luxuriance of its growth, is superior to the power of the blast.
We hear of thousands and tens of thousands, every day renouncing and abjuring the religion in which they were educated; but not of one sensible man in all the world, who was not educated in it, ever coming to embrace it, after he had come to his
The natural history of the thing, being, that if the mind have the happiness of coming to its full growth, the swathing bands and trammels that were imposed on its infancy fit it no longer; they rot and fall off of themselves, or the expanding faculties burst them to pieces. But if the effect of early cramping, (as is too often the case) be to prevent his intellectual growth entirely, he retains everything of his childish nature but its innocence, he wears a callow forehead over a full-fledged chin, and goes to the gospel-shop to shew himself as the piece of work which Nature swears she made not, a baby with a beard.
Be it with us, my rational brethren, the point of honour, of delicacy, of good taste, to avoid as much as we can, (for I am sure it is very hard to avoid) catching something (and any thing is too much) of that severity and sourness of feeling, which we so justly reprobate in others; and which, when we contemplate it either in its cause, or in its consequences, has claims upon our pity, as well as on our indignation, and should be viewed by us, as every thing which is amiss should be viewed, with "a countenance more in sorrow than in anger."
In the mere atmosphere of the vice of hatred, when one but speaks of it, to detail its horrors, or to correct its influence, the heart catches a sympathetic cold, and the benevolent and amiable affections are for the ill-starred moment, held in check.
But they will flow again, and all the happiness of life depends (like the fertility of Egypt upon the o'erflowing of her Nile) on their abundance, when we listen to the cheering voice of that philosophy, which is not harsh and crabbed, as religion is.
"But musical as is Apollo's lute,
And a perpetual feast of nectared sweets;
Philosophy does not require us to adopt into our minds any supernatural or unnatural sentiments, nor to take up any impression or persuasion whatever, the entertainment of which could
make us regard the individual who entertained it not, or who
Philosophy never requires us to love our enemies, and if it did, we would not; but neither does it allow us to hate them. Not bacause, if hating them, could be any means of getting the better of them, it would not be right enough. But, because it makes us get the worse of ourselves, and by hating, we do but fling stones to fly back into our own faces; a sort of sport which you know, the wiser a man is, the sooner he'll be tired of it. And there's but a natural measure of justice and equity in the government of our affections, to remember, that as the best of them are frail and transitory, the worst of them should not be allowed to be fixed and permanent.
Reason for anger there may be, reason for envy, reason for revenge, but reason for hating, more than half an hour at a time, there never was. Our friendships will not last, neither should our enmity do so. We attach a great deal too much consequence to our enemies, when we think them worthy of a permanent hostility; and too little, infinitely too little, whenever we fail of doing the utmost that lies in our power to be reconciled to them -and to live in bonds of perfect charity with all men.
DELENDA EST CARTHAGO.
OF SHAFTSBURY'S." CHARACTERISTICS."
P. 278. Among the ancients, the great motive which inclined so many of the wisest to the belief of this doctrine of a future state unrevealed to them, was purely the love of virtue in the persons of those great men, the founders and preservers of societies, the legislators, patriots, deliverers, heroes whose virtues they were desirous should live and be immortalized.
P. 294. We inquire concerning what is good and suitable to our appetites; but what appetites are good and suitable to us, is
no part of our examination. We inquire what is according to interest, policy, fashion, vogue; but it seems wholly strange, and out of the way, to inquire what is according to nature. The balance of Europe, of trade, of power, is strictly sought after; while few have heard of the balance of their passions, or thought of holding these scales even. Few are acquainted with this province, or knowing in these affairs. But were we more so (as this inquiry would make us) we should then see beauty and decorum here, as well as elsewhere in nature; and the order of the moral world would equal that of the natural. By this, the beauty of virtue, would appear, and hence (as has been shown) the supreme and sovereign beauty, the original of all that is good or amiable.
P. 298. Divines in general, are strict, it is true, as to names; but allow a great latitude in things. Hardly indeed can they bear a home-charge, a downright questioning of deity: but in return they give always fair play against nature, and allow her to be challenged for her failings. She may freely err, and we as freely censure. Deity they think, is not accountable for her, only she for herself.
"When men entered first into society, they passed from the state of nature into that new one which is founded upon compact." And was that former state a tolerable one? Had it been absolutely intolerable, there had never been any such. Nor could we properly call that a state, which could not stand or endure for the least time. If man, therefore, could endure to live without society; and if it be true that he actually lived so when in a state of nature, how can it be said, "That he is by nature sociable."
There are people, I know, who have so great a regard to every fancy of their own, that they can believe their very dreams. But I who could never pay any such deference to my sleeping fancies, am apt sometimes to question even my waking thoughts, and examine whether these are not dreams too; since men have a faculty of dreaming sometimes with their eyes open. You will own it is no small pleasure with mankind to make their dreams pass for realities; and that the love of truth is, in earnest, not half so prevalent as this passion for novelty and surprise, joined with a desire of making impression, and being admired. However, I am so charitable still, as to think there is more of innocent delusion than voluntary imposture in the world: and that they who have most imposed on mankind, have been happy in a certain faculty of imposing first upon themselves, by which they have a kind of salvo for their consciences, and are so much the more successful, as they can act their part more naturally, and to the life. Nor is it to be esteemed a riddle, that men's dreams should sometimes have the good fortune of passing with them for truth; when we consider, that in some cases, that which
was never so much as dreamt of, or related as truth, comes afterwards to be believed by one who has often told it.
So that the greatest impostor in the world, replied he, rate may be allowed sincere.
As to the main of his imposture, said I, perhaps he may, notwithstanding some pious frauds made use of between whiles, in behalf of a belief thought good and wholesome. And so very natural do I take this to be, that in all religions, except the true, I look upon the greatest zeal to be accompanied with the strongest inclination to deceive. For the design and end being the truth, it is not customary to hesitate or be scrupulous about the choice of means. Whether this be true or no, I appeal to the experience of the last age: in which it will not be difficult to find very remarkable examples where imposture and zeal, bigotry and hypocrisy have lived together, in one and the same character.
Let this be as it will, replied he, I am sorry, upon the whole, to find you of such an incredulous temper.
It is just, said I, that you should pity me as a sufferer, for losing that pleasure which I see others enjoy. For what stronger pleasure is there with mankind, or what do they earlier learn or longer retain, than the love of hearing and relating things strange and incredible? How wonderful a thing is the love of wondering, and of raising wonder! It is the delight of children to hear tales they shiver at, and the vice of old age to abound in strange stories of past times. We come into the world wondering at every thing; and when our wonder about common things is over, we seek something new to wonder at. Our last scene is to tell wonders of our own, to all who will believe them. And amidst all this, it is well if truth comes off, but moderately tainted.
It is well, replied he, if with this moderate faith of yours, you can believe any miracles whatever.
No matter, said I, how incredulous I am of modern miracles, if I have a right faith in those of former times, by paying the deference due to sacred writ. It is here I am so much warned against credulity, and enjoined never to believe even the greatest miracles which may be wrought in opposition to what has been already taught me. And this injunction I am so well fitted to comply with, that I can safely engage to keep still in the same faith, and promise never to believe amiss.
But is this a promise which can well be made?
If not, and that my belief indeed does not absolutely depend upon myself, how am I accountable for it? I may be justly punished for actions in which my will is free; but with what justice can I be challenged for my belief, if in this I am not at liberty? If credulity and incredulity are defects only in the judgment; and the best meaning persons in the world may err on either side,
whilst a much worse man, by having better parts, may judge far better of the evidence of things: how can you punish him who errs, unless you would punish weakness, and say, it is just for men to suffer for their unhappiness, and not their fault?
I am apt to think, said he, that very few of those who are punished for their credulity, can be said to be sufferers for their weakness.
Taking it for granted then, replied I, that simplicity and weakness is more the character of the credulous than of the unbelieving; yet I see not, but that even this way still, we are as liable to suffer by our weakness, as in the contrary case by an over refined wit. For if we cannot command our unbelief, how are we secure against those false prophets, and their deluding miracles, of which we have such warning given us? How are we safe from heresy and false religion? Credulity being that which delivers us up to all impostures of this sort, and which actually at this day holds the Pagan and Mahometan world in error and blind superstition. Either, therefore, there is no punishment due to wrong belief, because we cannot believe as we will ourselves; or if we can, why should we not promise never to believe amiss? Now in respect of miracles to come, the surest way never to believe amiss, is never to believe at all. For being satisfied of the truth of our religion by past miracles, so as to need no other to confirm us; the belief of new, may often do us harm, but can never do us good. Therefore, as the truest mark of a believing Christian is to seek after no sign or miracle to come; so the safest station in Christianity is his who can be moved by nothing of this kind, and is thus miracle-proof. For if the miracle be on the side of his faith, it is superfluous, and he needs it not: if against his faith, let it be as great as possible, he will never regard it in the least, or believe it any other than imposture, though coming from an angel. So that with all that credulity for which you reproach me so severely, I take myself to be still the better and more orthodox Christian. At least I am more sure of continuing so than you, who with your credulity may be imposed upon by such as are far short of angels. For having this preparatory disposition, it is odds, you may come in time to believe miracles in any of the different sects, who, we know, all pretend to them. I am persuaded therefore, that the best maxim to go by is that common one, "that miracles are ceased."
The heathen, he said, who wanted scripture, might have recourse to miracles: and providence, perhaps, had allowed them their oracles and prodigies, as an imperfect kind of revelation. The Jews too, for their hard heart, and harder understanding, had this allowance; when stubbornly they asked for signs and wonders, But Christians, for their parts, had a far better and truer revelation; they had their plainer oracles, and more rational law, and clearer scripture, carrying its own force, and withal so well