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the latter, and that they ought not to be considered as such. But, if their benefits are not so great as could be wished, it by no means follows, that they should be discontinued or despised; especially when those more beneficial are not always to be obtained.
The object of flagellation, is to' mortify the flesh and to disgust the soul with earth, but if the sufferer knows that he could be happy if he would, if he is certain that his pain must cease when he ceases to inflict the blows, which he is not compelled to strike, the desired effect can be produced but in a very imperfect degree. No person, however great his pains may be, can impute them to the imperfections of the world in which he lives, or abhor his life on their account, when he inflicts them himself. But if the blows were struck by an arm that was not governed by the sufferer, if he knew not the termination of his pangs, if he was obliged to attribute them, not to his own act, but to the state of the world in which he was placed, he would soon loathe his existence, and the most salutary effects would be produced. It is manifest, therefore, that afflictions, to be useful, should be beyond our controul. Let us then never attempt to diminish the evils to which flesh is heir, with a hope of supplying their place with voluntary sufferings, but let us rather attempt to increase the afflictions which men are born to endure, in this life, that we may secure their happiness in the world to come.
We cannot fail to adore the wisdom of God, when
we perceive that the religion which he has established, naturally produces and carries with it the evils, which are so essential to its existence. We must consider that religion as the work of divine wisdom, which is so calculated, that whenever a people are converted to its doctrines, it is supported among them by the evils which it produces. Such a religion is Christianity.--Wherever it is received, contentions and tyranny, its usual attendants, turn the minds of men to a better world, by the evils they produce in this. Man is made to know his dependence on God, by the wants and pains which he is made to endure, and warned to be prepared for his future state by the dangers which forever threaten his life ; and when he is thus prepared for the world to come, the axe and the gibbet, are ready to send him thither. But, it will perhaps be said by the enemies of our religion, that it does produce those salutary effects; and there are several reasons which, at first view, might induce us to adopt their opinion ; but these vanish on a closer scrutiny.
There are many moral precepts in the Gospel, which at first view appear excellent, and which are in truth not bad. Christians too have taught that morals are necessary to salvation. These facts have induced many to believe, that the religion of Christ, must have a beneficial effect on morals, and, therefore, add to the happiness of man. But a further examination, will teach us, that while it appears to make men more moral, by giving them new motives for being virtuous, it
has injured virtue by placing it on a false foundation, and by making obedience to the will of God, and not the happiness of man, its object. It is from this that it happens, that Christians have frequently engaged in pernicious acts, thinking that they were governed by a regard for virtae alone, and that, what they did, was. required of them by their duty to God. But, if Cbristians should never mistake the nature, and the commands of virtue, the effect of their religion on morals would not be great, because the motives which it gives man, for being virtuous, do not extend to all. The unregenerate believer in Christianity, has no more to fear, in regard to bis future state, if he is a criminal, than if he is virtuous. If he dies unchanged, he knows that he is lost, whether he is guilty or innocent of any offence against morals. If he should have the good fortune to be born again, his crimes will be forgiven, and experience must teach him, that criminals are more frequently the subjects of divine grace, than those whose characters are unimpeached. What motive then has he for being virtuous, more than if he knew this world was his last. Nor are the motives which religion gives to the converted for adhering to virtue, of the strongest kind, for with them a crime, if duly repented of, is esteemed no damning thing.
Religion diminishes the happiness of man, by placing, as I have said, virtue on a false foundation, or rather, by establishing principles of virtue, which are Hostile to the temporal interest of man. It appears.
But a man,
to be a maxim, derived from the nature of religion,
that he would not feel the punishment that would be inflicted on the wicked, in the world to come, should he leave them to their fate, he might reply, that he felt not the evils which he inflicted on them in this.Such would be the conduct of a man with the principles I have mentioned, for such conduct would be required by the spiritual interest of mankind, which is ever at war with their temporal good.
But these principles have a much more pernicious effect, on our temporal welfare, when adopted by gov. ernments. The spiritual interest of a people, which must be the first consulted by every Christian government, is ever opposed to their freedom. The spiritual interest of a nation, the adoption of which will be esteemed by Christians as the highest virtue, requires that infidels and heretics should be persecuted, that the freedom of the press should be proscribed, lest false doctrines should be communicated to the people, It is in vain to say, that punishment cannot convince a man, that it can only make him a hypocrite, for the punishment is not intended for his good alone, but to prevent the spreading of his errors among others, for which purpose it answers well. For, though a man's opinion, when once fixed, cannot be changed by punishment, it may prevent him from communicating his doctrines to others, and by the odium which it throws upon his opinions, it may put them forever at rest. The effect, which these persecutions have on the religious opinions of a people, may be readily per