Imatges de pÓgina
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This melancholy instance of ignorance and er rour, in the most illustrious character for wis dom and virtue in all heathen antiquity, is not mentioned as a reflection on his memory, but as a proof of human weakness in general. Whether reason could have discovered the great truths, which in these days are ascribed to it, because now seen so clearly by the light of the gospel, may be a question; but that it never did, is an undeniable fact; and that is enough to teach us: thankfulness for the blessing of a better information. Socrates, who had, of all mankind, the fairest pretensions to set up for an instructor and reformer of the world, confessed that he knew nothing, referred to tradition, and acknowledged the want of a superior guide: and there is a remarkable passage in Epictetus, in which he represents it, as the office of his supreme God, or of one deputed by him, to appear among mankind, as a teacher and example.

Upon the whole, the several sects of heathen philosophy serve as so many striking instances of the imperfection of human wisdom, and of the extreme need of a divine assistance, to rectify the mistakes of depraved reason, and replace natural religion on its true foundation. The Stoics every where testify the noblest zeal for virtue, and the honour of God: but they attempted to establish them on principles inconsistent with the nature of man, and contradictory to truth and experience. By a direct consequence of these principles they were liable to be seduced, and in fact, often were seduced into pride, hard-heartedness,

and the last dreadful extremity of human guilt, self-murder.

But however indefensible the philosophy of the Stoics in several instances may be, it appears to have been of very important use in the heathen world; and they are, on many accounts, to be considered in a very respectable light. Their doctrine of evidence and fixed principles, was an excellent preservative from the mischiefs that might have arisen from the scepticism of the Academics and Pyrrhonists, if unopposed; and their zealous defence of a particular providence, a valuable antidote to the atheistical scheme of Epicurus. To this may be added, that their strict notions of virtue in most points, (for they sadly failed in some) and the lives of several among them, must contribute a good deal to preserve luxurious states from an absolutely universal dissoluteness; and the subjects of arbitrary government, from a wretched and contemptible pusillanimity.

Even now, their compositions may be read with great advantage, as containing excellent rules of self-government, and of social behaviour; of a noble reliance on the aid and protection of heaven, and of a perfect resignation and submission to the divine will; points, which are treated with great clearness, and with admirable spirit, in the lessons of the Stoics; and though their directions are seldom practicable on their principles, in trying cases may be rendered highly useful in subordination to Christian reflections.

If, among those who are so unhappy as to re

main unconvinced of the truth of Christianity, any are prejudiced against it by the influence of unwarrantable inclinations; such persons will find very little advantage in rejecting the doctrines of the New Testament for those of the Portico; unless they think it an advantage to be laid under moral restraints, almost equal to those of the gospel, while they are deprived of its encou'ragements and supports. Deviations from the rules of sobriety, justice, and piety, meet with small indulgence in the stoic writings; and they who profess to admire Epictetus, unless they pursue that severely virtuous conduct which he every where prescribes, will find themselves treated by him with the utmost degree of scorn and contempt. An immoral character is indeed, more or less, the outcast of all sects of philosophy; and Seneca quotes even Epicurus, to prove the universal obligation of a virtuous life. Of this great truth God never left himself without witness. Persons of distinguished talents and opportunities seem to have been raised, from time to time, by Providence, to check the torrent of corruption, and to preserve the sense of moral obligations on the minds of the multitude, to whom the various occupations of life left but little leisure to form deductions of their own. But then they wanted a proper commission to enforce their precepts; they intermixed with them, through false reasoning, many gross mistakes: and their unavoidable ignorance, in several important points, entangled them with doubts, which easily degenerated into pernicious errours.

If there are others who reject Christianity,

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from motives of dislike to its peculiar doctrines, they will scarcely fail of entertaining more favourable impressions of it, if they can be prevailed on with impartiality to compare the Holy Scriptures, from whence alone the Christian religion is to be learned, with the stoic writings; and then fairly to consider, whether there is any thing to be met with in the discoveries of our blessed Saviour, in the writings of his apostles, or even in the obscurest parts of the prophetic books, by which, equitably interpreted, either their senses or their reason are contradicted, as they are by the paradoxes of these philosophers; and if not, whether notices from above, of things in which, though we comprehend them but imperfectly, we are possibly much more interested, than at present we discern, ought not to be received with implicit veneration; as useful exercises and trials of that duty which finite understandings owe to infinite wisdom. Miss Carter.

THE GRAND OBJECT OF RELIGION.

THE end and design of all religion; the proper effect and produce of good principles; the good fruit of a good tree; the ultimate view and the fundamental intention of all religious truths implanted in men either by nature or teaching; is the practice of virtue. For the word religion, in its very native and original meaning, signifies an obligation upon men, arising from the reason of things, and from the government of God, to do what is just, and virtuous, and good; to live in a

constant habitual sense and acknowledgment of God, in the practice of universal justice and charity towards men, and in a regular and sober government of their own passions, under a firm persuasion and continual expectation of the righteous distribution of rewards and punishments at their proper season, in the eternal judgment of God. This is the foundation of religion, the fundamental doctrine, in all places, and at all times, invariable and eternal. This, being corrupted by numerous superstitions among the Jews, and by the absurdest idolatries and most enormous immoralities among the heathen, Christ came into the world to restore; and by the preaching of forgiveness upon true repentance and effectual amendment of life and manners, to bring back sinners to the kingdom of God, through the obedience of the gospel. In proportion therefore as any doctrine of truth has a greater, or more proper, and more immediate tendency to promote this great end, to produce this fruit of the spirit; exactly the very same proportion has it of weight and excellency, in the religious estimation of things: it is gold or silver, or precious stones (in the Apostle's language) built upon the foundation of Christ. And on the other side, any erroneous opinion, in proportion as it has any or no moral influence, in the very same proportion it is faulty or innocent. It is (in St. Paul's similitude) either wood, hay, stubble; something that is merely lost labour, useless only, and insignificant, and of no strength in the building; or else it is opposite to, and destructive of, the very foundation of the temple of God. It is (in the analogy of our Saviour's para

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