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SPEECH AGAINST PAINE'S “AGE OF REASON."
BY THOMAS ERSKINE.
THOMAS ERSKINE was born in Scotland, in 1750. He served in the navy four years, in the army six years, commenced the study of the law in 1776, was admitted to the bar in 1778, and was made LordChancellor in 1806. His talents, as an advocate and a forensic orator, were of the highest order. He died in 1823.
The “ Age of Reason” was a work written by Thomas Paine for the purpose of bringing the Christian religion into contempt.
NOTE.—Mark the irony in the third and fourth paragraphs. 1. How any man can rationally vindicate the publication of such a book, in a country where the Christian religion is the very foundation of the law of the land, I am totally at a loss to conceive, and have no wish to discuss. How is a tribunal, whose whole jurisdiction is founded upon the solemn belief and practice of what is here denied as falsehood and reprobated as impiety, to deal with such an anomalous defence ? Upon what principle is it ever offered to the court, whose authority is contemned and mocked at? If the religion proposed to be called in question is not previously adopted in belief and solemnly acted upon, what authority has the court to pass any judgment at all of acquittal or condemnation ?
2. Why am I now, or upon any other occasion, to submit to your lordship's authority ? Why am I now, or at any time, to address twelve of my equals, as I am now addressing you, with reverence and submission ? Under what sanction are the witnesses to give their evidence, without which there can be no trial ?. Under what obligations can I call upon you, the jury representing your country, to administer justice ? Surely, upon no other than that you are sworn to administer it under the oaths you have taken. The whole judicial fabric, from the king's sovereign authority to the lowest office of magistracy, has no other foundation. The whole is built, both in form and substance, upon the same oath of every one of its ministers to do justice, as God shall help them hereafter.
3. What God? And what hereafter? That God, undoubtedly, who has commanded kings to rule and judges to decree with justice; who has said to witnesses, not only by the voice of nature, but in revealed commandments, Thou shalt not bear false. witness against thy neighbor; and who has enforced obedience to them by the revelation of the unutterable blessings which shall attend their cbservance, and the awful punishments which shall await upon their transgression. But it seems this is an age of reason, and the time and the person are at last arrived that are to dissipate the errors which have overspread the past generations of ignorance. The believers in Christianity are many; but it belongs to the few that are wise to correct their credülity. Belief is an act of reason; and superior reason may therefore dictate to the weak.
4. In running the mind along the numerous list of sincere ånd devout Christians, I cannot help lamenting that Newton had not lived to this day, to have had his shallowness filled up with this new flood of light. But the subject is too awful for irony. I will speak plainly and directly. Newton was a Christian ! Newton, whose mind burst forth from the fetters cast by nature upon our finite conceptions; Newton, whose science was truth, and the foundation of whose knowledge of it was philosophy,-not those visionary and arrogant presumptions which too often usurp
its name,—but philosophy resting upon the basis of mathematics, which, like figures, cannot lie; Newton, who carried the line and rule to the utmost barriers of creation, and explored the principles by which, no doubt, all created matter is held together and exists.
5. But this extraordinary man, in the mighty reach of his mind, overlooked, perhaps, the errors which a minuter investigation of the created things on this earth might have taught him of the essence of his Creator. What then shall be said of the great Mr. Boyle, who looked into the organic structure of all matter, even to the brute inanimate substances which the foot treads on? Such a man may be supposed to have been equally qualified with Mr. Paine to look through nature up to nature's God;?' yet the result of all his contemplation was the most confirmed and devout belief in all which the other holds in contempt as despicable and driveling superstition.
6. But this error might, perhaps, arise from a want of due attention to the foundations of human judgment, and the structure of that understanding which God has given us for the investigation of truth. Let that question be answered by Mr. Locke, who was, to the highest pitch of devotion and adoration, a Christian; Mr. Locke, whose office was to detect the errors of thinking, by going up to the fountains of thought, and to direct into the proper track of reasoning the devious mind of man, by showing him its whole process, from the first perceptions of sense to the last conclusions of ratiocination, putting a rein besides upon false opinions by practical rules for the conduct of human judgment. But these men were only deep thinkers, and lived in their closets, unaccustomed to the traffic of the world and to the laws which practically regulate mankind.
7. Gentlemen, in the place where we now sit to administer the justice of this great country, above a century ago, the neverto-be-forgotten Sir Matthew Hale presided,—whose faith in Christianity is an exalted commentary upon its truth and reason, and whose life was a glorious example of its fruits in man,administering human justice with a wisdom and purity, drawn from the pure fountain of the Christian dispensation, which has been, and will be, in all ages, a subject of the highest reverence and admiration.
8. But it is said by Mr. Paine that the Christian fable is but the tale of the more ancient superstitions of the world, and may easily be detected by a proper understanding of the mythologies of the heathen. Did Milton understand those mythologies ? Was he less versed than Mr. Paine in the superstitions of the world ? No; they were the subject of his immortal song; and, though shut out from all recurrence to them, he poured them forth from the stores of a memory rich with all that man ever knew, and laid them in their order, as the illustration of real and exalted faith, the unquestionable source of that fervid genius which cast a sort of shade upon all the other works of man.
“He pass'd the flaming bounds of place and time:
The living throne, the sapphire blaze
He closed his eyes in endless night!” 9. But it was the light of the body only that was extinguished; the celestial light shone inward, and enabled him to justify the ways of God to man. Thus you find all that is great, or wise, or splendid, or illustrious, amongst created beings,—all the minds gifted beyond ordinary nature, if not inspired by its universal Author, for the advancement and dignity of the world, though divided by distant ages, and by clashing opinions, yet joining, as it were, in one sublime chorus, to celebrate the truths of Christianity, and laying upon its holy altars the never-fading offerings of their immortal wisdom.
1. To be, or not to be, that is the question,
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
Devoutly to be wish’d. 2.
To die, to sleep; To sleep! perchance to dream,-ay, there's the rub; For in that sleep of death what dreams may come, When we have shuffled off this mortal coil, Must give us pause. There's the respect That makes calamity of so long life; For who would bear the whips and scorns of time, The oppressor's wrong, the proud man's contumely, The pangs of despised love, the law's delay, The insolence of office, and the spurns That patient merit of the unworthy takes, When he himself might his quietus make
With a bare bodkin ? 3.
Who would fardels bear,
DAVID'S LAMENTATION OVER SAUL AND JONATHAN.
FROM THE BIBLE.
1. The beauty of Israel is slain upon thy high places: how are the mighty fallen! Tell it not in Gath, publish it not in the streets of Askelon ; lest the daughters of the Philistines rejoice; lest the daughters of the uncircumcised triumph. Ye mountains of Gilboa, let there be no dew, neither let there be rain upon you, nor fields of offerings; for there the shield of the mighty is vilely cast away, the shield of Saul, as though he had not been anointed with oil.
2. From the blood of the slain, from the fat of the mighty, the bow of Jonathan turned not back, and the sword of Saul returned not empty. Saul and Jonathan were lovely and pleasant in their lives, and in their death they were not divided. They were swifter than eagles; they were stronger than lions.
3. Ye daughters of Israel, weep over Saul, who clothed you in scarlet, with other delights; who put on ornaments of gold upon your apparel. How are the mighty fallen in the midst of the battle! 0 Jonathan, thou wast slain in thine high places. I am distressed for thee, my brother Jonathan: very pleasant hast thou been unto me: thy love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women. How are the mighty fallen, and the weapons of war perished !
GOOD-BY, PROUD WORLD.
BY RALPH WALDO EMERSON.
1. GOOD-BY, proud world! I'm going home:
Thou art not my friend; I am not thine:
A river-ark on the ocean-brine,