Imatges de pÓgina
PDF
EPUB

and their errors, on the contrary, are seized on with avidity, and exhibited to the public eye with malicious envy and unjust comments, by men who, (I do not hesitate to assert, because the assertion is capable of the most rigid proof,) are the enemies of all that is virtuous, of all that is honourable, and of all that is praiseworthy, and who oppose the clergy with such unjust virulence, only because the principles and exertions of that body have hitherto prevented their li. centious conduct from becoming general, and the distinctions of virtue and vice from being totally confounded. To a man who views, with an impartial eye, the history of mankind, the mild nature and tendency of the Christian religion, the progress of science, and the consequent improvement of human happiness, and who considers how much of this improvement in science, and in happiness, we owe to the indefatigable labours of clergymen, the abuse thrown upon that order by Thomas Paine, Samuel Francis, A. Macleod, and their predecessors and abettors, will appear to be worse than illiberal; because, with injustice, and the most barefaced falsehood, it unites the blackest ingratitude. Instead of being the last to admit improvements in science, or to entertain liberality of sentiment, it is to men of this profession, almost entirely, that we owe the first efforts of invention, and the gradual dissemination of knowledge and refinement.

It is to their superior intelligence, or to the happy application of their talents and their leisure, that we owe almost all that we now so much value ourselves upon,-improvement in learning, and the sciences,-in the arts of life, and of civil government.

It is not to the petty scribblers on infidelity, those empty boasters of philosophical profundity, that we owe such advantages, but to the clergy, and to those whose minds they have tutored to the love of science. Look into the annals of the most enlightened and improved nation upon earth, (England) and see if you can find one infidel in the list of celebrated scholars, of able statesmen, or of distinguished improvers of any art or science. The enquiry will compell you to acknowledge, that the list is made up entirely of clergymen and of their scholars; that it is to their exertions, abilities and conduct, that England owes a large proportion of that character and importance which she holds among the nations of Europe. The history of almost every other state will furnish ample evidence of the same fact. But, because they have hitherto in this nation, (thanks be ascribed to the Sovereign Ruler of the universe) successfully opposed the progress of licentiousness in politics, and of infidelity with respect to religion, they are calumniated by the wild abettors of rebellion and atheism, with the odious, but happily unjust, epithets of bigotted and hypo

[ocr errors]

critical shallow thinkers, unfair reasoners! because, in some periods of the history of the world, many clergymen have been bigotted, superstitious and even licentious, must they still be branded with the same odious character, unless they totally give up the faith which they know to be divine; and allow the world to be driven about with every wind of doctrine, which the cunning craftiness of men may devise ? A little knowledge of human nature, which even their philosophy might have taught, or perhaps a little honesty, which is more creditable than learning, would have enabled the opponents of Christianity to draw a more candid, and probably a fairer con: clusion on this subject, than they have yet done. Clergymen, like other inen, of every order and description, are liable, and must ever be liable, to be misled by the temper of the times, if that happen to be erroneous. If the general temper of any age or nation be allied to bigotry, to superstition, to licentiousness and persecution, in the name of common sense, how can the great body of clergymen avoid the infection ? Is it candid, is it just, to compare their principles and practice, in such circumstances, with those of a more liberal and enlightened period ;or to judge them by a standard of which they had no practical knowledge ?-No, surely; they can only, with justice, be compared with men of other professions, and of

different pursuits in their own time, and, from such a comparison candidly made, the character of clergymen has nothing to fear.

“ That the first teachers of Christianity should, from the proud rulers of the world, meet with contempt and persecution, is not to be wondered at. They gave no quarter to vicious practice or erroneous belief; and they neither could, nor did expect, compassion or candour from their proud and vicious opponents. “ Remember (said their mas. ter, in one of his last conversations with them) the word that I said unto you, the servant is not greater lis ord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you: If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me, before it hated you.” Persecution, contempt, and insult, then, were the necessary and expected consequences of their exertions in disseminating the religion they had learned, as they and we think, from divine authority, and in opposing the supersitions and vices of a corrupted world. But that their successors,—an order of men who now, for so many centuries, have devoted their time and their abilities to the improvement of science, and to the dissemination of religion and morality; who have, in their Several generations, been shining lights in the world; and who have contributed most essentially to the furthering the best interests of mankind,-should meet with the same contempt, opposition, and, where it is pos

K

sible, persecution, is far more unaccounta. ble, because less to be expected. But they, too, know whom they have trusted, and are firmly convinced of the faithfulness of Him who hath promised to assist them, in the execution of their office, not only against the pernicious ways of those, by reason of whom (as was long ago foretold) the way of truth shall be evil spoken of, but even a. gainst the gates of hell and the powers of darkness. For therefore do they both labour and suffer reproach, because they trust in the living God, who is the Saviour of all men, especially of those that believe. Their good offices, which have been most important, and are almost innumerable, have, by their unworthy opponents, been overlooked or misrepresented, only that the religion they profess might be brought into discredit. These reproaches, and this in.justice, they have suffered with fortitude, endured in silence, or treated with just contempt, as the impotent railing of vicious and ignorant men, happy that they are accounted worthy to suffer in the same blessed cause with their Divine Master and his first followers. Gratitude is a heavenly virtue; and if any order of men, as such, deserve the gratitude of their fellow-men, it is the clergy. But it is a virtue which attains no strength in little minds, which never was, and never can be, combined with malice and disingenuity.

« AnteriorContinua »