Page images


partake of his own felicity; and, after having placed in his heart an ardent desire after the sovereign good, he made a benign discovery of himself, as the one only and inexhaustible source of true blessedness. But since the darkness of sin has overspread our understanding, we have lost sight of this sovereign good, and are seeking it where it cannot possibly be found. Like Ixion, in the fable, while we embrace a cloud, we imagine ourselves in possession of a sublime reality. And even after repeated convictions of our folly, uninstructed by disappointment, we set out again in pursuit of objects full as frivolous as those by which we have been already beguiled. Philosophers, unable to guide

. mankind to true happiness, are vainly searching after it themselves in darkness and uncertainty. Divided into a variety of sects, they maintain a hundred different opinions upon a subject of so great importance. So that, after all the researches of its professors, philosophy has left the world in a state of equal perplexity with a man who, having but one arrow to level at the mark, has a hundred different marks proposed to him at the same time.

In all this uncertainty, how happy is it to discover a volume which decides the momentous question in so clear a manner, that reason itself can object nothing to the decision ! This book, the most ancient that can be

produced, informs us, that Jehovah once appeared to the father of the faithful, “and said unto him, I am the mighty,* all-sufficient God; walk before me, and be thou perfect.” So “ will I make my covenant between me and thee ;” and thou shalt become a joyful possessor of the sovereign good. Gen. xvii. 1, 2. When these truths are once cordially assented to, the perplexity of the believer is then sweetly terminated, and his high vocation completely pointed out. From this time he feels the importance of those doctrines which, like steady lights, eclipse a thousand glimmering meteors, and discover, amid surrounding dangers, a sure, though narrow, road to happiness. And here it is to be observed, that upon these important truths, as well as upon every other essential point, Christians of all denominations are perfectly agreed.

* See the origiwal.

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

What is meant by “ walking before God in perfection is fully explained in the following terms :-“ Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart; and thy neighbour as thyself.” Matt. xxii. 37, 39. Now, unregenerate man, far from filling up these duties, neglects the supreme Being, and prefers his own particular interest to that of society in general, affording the strongest proof, that he possesses neither genuine piety, nor undissembled charity. Hence before such a man can become truly virtuous, it is evident that his principles must be improved, and his inclinations rectified. And till these salutary changes take place in his soul, always vicious, restless, and selfish, he will continually be making some addition to his external errors and his internal misery.

Deists, while they acknowledge that we are bound to love both God and man, presume upon the sufficiency of their own ability for the due performance of these extensive duties. Were they, however, truly anxious to practise these virtues in as unreserved a manner as even natural religion requires, they would quickly perceive the weakness of humanity, and acknowledge the deepest need of divine assistance. But so long as the piety of these persons consists in “honouring God with their lips, while their hearts are far from him;" Isaiah xxix. 13; and while they boast of manifesting toward mankind a love so universal, that none but their enemies are excluded from it; Matthew v. 43; so long they will need no other assistance for the performance of these wretched services than that which corrupt nature can amply afford.

It is frequently asserted, that the mysteries of redemption are utterly useless, with respect to morality; and that the benignity of God, as exemplified in our creation and preservation, is a sufficient motive to affection and obedience on the part of man. But since man has become a sinful and miserable creature, every motive to rectitude that can possibly be drawn from his creation and preservation has lost much of its former constraining influ

How many persons may we find in the world who, instead of being penetrated with gratitude on account of these blessings, lament, with despairing Job and Jeremiah,



that ever they were born! And when the miseries of life have rendered it almost insupportable, can we reasonably imagine its repining possessor to be glowing with love to the Deity merely as the author and preserver of his unhappy existence? Surely nothing can be more absurd than such a supposition! Yet how many boasted reasoners confidently maintain, that the very same gift which wretched sufferers, in every age, have thrown back to the Giver with anguish and contempt, is, nevertheless, a motive sufficiently powerful to engage every transgressor of the Almighty's law to love him with all their heart, and serve him with all their power!

But let us suppose that man, unassisted by the doctrines of the gospel, has some knowledge of the sovereign good, and the means by which it may be obtained; yet how superficial is this knowledge! We might here produce a gloomy catalogue of those capital errors into which the ancient philosophers have fallen, with regard to these important points. It must, indeed, be allowed, that modern professors have corrected many of those errors; but it must be lamented, at the same time, that they have unhappily adopted others, not a whit less glaring or fatal. Passing over in silence the horrible systems of atheistical writers, let us listen to philosophers of greater estimation, among whom Rousseau and Voltaire may rank as the most conspicuous characters. The former of these acquired considerable reputation, by his observations upon the education of youth; and the latter, by the courage with which he contended for toleration. “ Let it be laid down,” says Rousseau,

as an incontestable maxim, that the first movements of nature are always right, and that there is no such thing as original sin in the human heart.” How large a stride is here toward the sentiments of La Metrie, all whose morality was wrapped up in this single sentence: “Satisfy thy desires; they are the voice of God and of nature !” To enlarge this little quotation from J. J. Rousseau would be a superfluous task. It must appear evident to every unprejudiced reader, from the above assertion, that the maxims of this admired philosopher have a greater ten

[ocr errors]

Take an

dency to advance self-gratification, than to promote universal benevolence in the world.

Turn we now to the toleration of M. de Voltaire. In his epistle to Boileau we find him writing thus : “ I have consecrated my voice to sing the praises of virtue ; overcoming those prejudices which are idolized by the ignorant, I dare to preach toleration to persecutors."* When any man comes forth in this public manner to plead the cause of candour and liberality, we are naturally led to admire the generosity of his conduct. And it would be well if M. de Voltaire was really deserving of all that credit which a stranger feels disposed to give him when he assumes so questionable an appearance. But notwithstanding the praises which this celebrated writer has bestowed upon his own humanity, and in spite of all the beautiful things he has said upon toleration, many ungenerous sentiments may be discovered in his works which tend to renew the most bloody persecutions. instance or two.

1. “It is never necessary to rise up against the religion of the prince." Upon this principle, Jesus Christ and St. Paul were highly worthy of blame, for withstanding the hypocrisy and idolatry which composed the religion of Caiaphas and Tiberias.

2. “ What is called a 'Jansenist' is really a madman, a bad citizen, and a rebel. He is a bad citizen, because he troubles the order of the state ; he is a rebel, because he disobeys. The Molinists are madmen of a more harmless kind.” These two lovely maxims of toleration are to be found in a little piece of M. de Voltaire's entitled “ The Voice of a Philosopher and of the People.”

Had the king of France attended to this voice, he would have regarded every Jansenist, and, for the same reason, every protestant, as a bad citizen, or a rebel ; every spark of religious moderation would have been extinguished in his royal bosom, and an effectual door thrown open to the terrible exertions of tyrannical power.

[ocr errors]



* A chanter lavertu j'ai consacré ma voix ;

Vainqueur des préjugés que l'imbecile encense, J'ose aux persécuteurs prêcher la tolerance.


These pretended rebels might then have perished unpitied and unheard, while the bigoted prince, convinced that a man must cease to be a fanatic before he merits toleration, might have gloried in the rectitude of his public conduct. Such a prince might have commanded bis blood-thirsty troops to advance under the banners of modern philosophy, leaving M. de Voltaire to animate them against the innocent with what he calls “the voice of a philosopher.”

It appears, then, according to M. de Voltaire, that every subject should profess the religion of his prince. Nor is this opinion less earnestly contended for by J. J. Rousseau, who tells us in his Emilius, that “every daughter should be of her mother's religion, and that every woman should profess the religion of her husband.” So that, if a man should turn from the true, and embrace a false religion, his wife and children are bound to apostatize with him ; and, in case of a refusal on their part, J. J. Rousseau, while he affects to plead the cause of liberty, pronounces upon them a sentence of condemnation. Upon these principles of toleration, the father of a family is authorized to persecute his non-conforming wife and children ; and a prince may lawfully take up arms against such of his subjects as are esteemed fanatics. If the benevolence and morality of these candid philosophers were to be substituted in the place of that liberality and love which the gospel requires, Mark ix. 38, &c., to what a deluge of misery would it give rise, both in families and in commonwealths! Kings would tyrannize over the conscience of their subjects, husbands over that of their wives, and parents over that of their children ; nor would the least religious liberty be experienced by any class of men, except by the princes of the earth. Such is the imperfect charity, and such the limited freedom, for which modern philosophers have contended with equal earnestness and approbation.

The dangerous principles of these two oracles upon the subject of toleration will suffice to show, with how just reason the former of them could say, “I hate false maxims, but I detest evil actions yet more.” Alas! the horrible actions of a murdering inquisitor terminate with

« PreviousContinue »