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the dead and the living to stay the plague; who, as Abraham, have renounced all for God. You join the illustrious band of Reformers, kindred spirits in all climes and generations, from him the best and greatest, who, “ for the joy set before him, endured the cross, despising the shame," down to your own Priestleys and Lindseys, who heard his animating voice, “ Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life;" and who calls you, with them, on those plains of holy warfare, to sustain the cause of truth, righteousness and benevolence, and reap the deathless laurels of celestial glory.
ON CREEDS, CONTROVERSY, AND THE IN
FLUENCE OF RELIGIOUS SYSTEMS ON
DANIEL xii. 4.
Many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall
In the preceding Lectures we have attempted to exhibit that great apostacy in the Church, designated by the term Antichrist, in its nature and extent, as consisting in unscriptural faith and worship, superstitious practices and spiritual tyranny, and affecting, in various degrees, not only the Church of Rome and the Eastern Church, but also the different Protestant sects, and in this country both the Establishment and Dissenters. To this has been opposed what I consider the unadulterated gospel, sacred and eternal truth, approved by reason and declared in Scripture, a system fostered by inquiry, almost identified with religious liberty, and eminently favourable to piety, benevolence and happiness. I have now to shew the advance which this
system has made, and the means by which that progress has been effected, and will be continued till Unitarianism become again co-extensive with Christianity; which occupies the present Lecture, and prepares us for contemplating afterwards, the strength of regenerated Christianity, to restrain and ultimately abolish that greatest of evils, war; and thus conduct mankind towards perfection. For this purpose, the terms of the subject of this Lecture were selected. The influence of religious systems on society, is that which makes their discussion of importance; creeds, and their accompaniments, are commonly the intrenchments which error throws up for her defence; and controversy is the chief agency by which those barriers are demolished ; truth elicited and diffused; and, consequently, the church purified and the world improved. These topics will be kept in view, and involved in most of the remarks I shall make this evening, though without aiming, for reasons before assigned, at giving them either a distinct or a complete discussion.
He must be a very careless reader of either ancient or modern history, who does not at once see that religion has, in all times and countries, operated with great force on the condition of man. Not only does it affect the moral character, by supposing, or creating a standard of duty, and exciting fears of punishment, or hopes of recompence in futurity; but it is also one of the first among the causes by which nations have risen to refinement, knowledge and power, or been retained in, or plunged into ignorance and barbarism ; which has steeled them for the atrocities of war, or disposed them for the milder arts and joys of peace; which has coiled around them the serpent folds of the chain of vassalage, or beamed the heavenly light of liberty; and been, according to the spirit of its institutions, the glory or the ruin of mightiest empires.
There are four classes of men, aiming at some sort of sway over others, who have always, by their conduct, given evidence of their vivid perception of the vast influence of religion on society, and who have eagerly grasped it as a machine to effect their purposes.
1. Legislators have invoked its aid to sanction their institutions when in infancy, to second them in operation, and make up by public veneration for their weakness when declining by antiquity. The learned and acute, though often paradoxical, author of the Divine Legation of Moses, has done much towards proving that Moses was the only lawgiver of all antiquity who did not enforce his edicts by connecting with them some explicit reference to a future state of rewards and punishments. Generally they pretended to a divine revelation. The original laws of Egyptians, Athenians, Spartans, Romans, Chinese, Peruvians, Goths, Arabians, and many other nations, were all, according to their authors, inspired by some guardian god or gods. They pretended acquaintance with the gods: the fact was, they knew human nature.
2. The poet aims at power, as well as the lawgiver, though of a different kind. He would controul the hearts of men; reign in their imaginations; command their tears; win their smiles; and enjoy a transient immortality in their memory and praises. The earliest poetry was that of devotion. Harps were first strung in honour of gods; and even the drama itself, in Greece, was but a gorgeous sacrifice. Its revival was similar to its origin, and is traced to the mysteries which monks performed in Lent, in which they united the effect of decoration and exhibition with that of poetry describing the creation of the world, or the crucifixion of the Redeemer. The great majority of poets have employed religion in attempting to reach that empire over the feelings of which they are so ambitious.
3. Orators have usually had recourse to similar means for a similar purpose. The great pleaders of antiquity, whose names are identified with this art, frequently used religion to play on the passions of their auditors. We commonly find it introduced in those speeches which are recorded to have had the greatest effect. The most sceptical have employed it for impression in their eloquence. In later days we have had splendid