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God, let us consider the case of one only; but of one who, among the good men, was the best, and among the wise ones the wisest. I shall easily be understood to mean Socrates, the great philosopher of Athens; and were the wise men of antiquity to plead their cause in common, they could not put their defence into better hands.
We have an account of the speculative opinions of many of the wise men of Greece preserved to us in authors of great credit; but of their practice and personal behaviour in life, little is said: which makes it hard to judge how far their own practice and conduct was influenced by their opinions, and how consistent they were in pursuing the consequences of their own doctrines. The case might have been the same with Socrates, had not a very particular circumstance put him under the necessity of explaining his conduct and practice, with respect to the religion of his country. He had talked so freely of the heathen deities, and the ridiculous stories told of them, that he fell under a suspicion of despising the gods of his country, and of teaching the youth of Athens to despise their altars and their worship. Upon this accusation he is summoned before the great court of the Areopagites, and happily the apology he made for himself is preserved to us by two, the ablest of his scholars, and the best writers of antiquity, Plato and Xenophon; and from both their accounts it appears, that Socrates maintained and asserted before his judges, that he worshipped the gods of his country, and that he sacrificed in private and in public upon the allowed altars, and according to the rites and
customs of the city. After this public confession, so authentically reported by two so able hands, there can be no doubt of the case. He was an idolater, and had not by his great knowledge and ability in reasoning delivered himself from the practice of the superstition of his country. You see how far the wisdom of the world could go. Give me leave to show you what the foolishness of preaching could do in the very same case.
St. Paul was in the came case. He was accused in the same city of Athens of the same crime, that he was a setter forth of strange gods; and before the same court of the Areopagites he made his apology, which is likewise preserved to us by St. Luke. We have then the greatest and ablest among the wise men of Greece, and an apostle of Christ in the same circumstances. You have heard the philosopher's defence, that he worshipped the gods of his country, and as his country worshipped them. Hear now the apostle. Ye men of Athens,' says he, 'I perceive that in all things ye are too superstitious: for, as I passed by, and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription, TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you: God, that made the world, and all things therein. This God,' he tells them, 'is not worshipped with men's hands, as though he needeth any thing :-nor is the godhead like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man's device.' He then calls upon them, in the name of this great God, to repent of their superstition and idolatry, which God would no longer bear; 'because he hath appointed a day in which he will judge the world in righteousness
by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead.'
Which of these two now was a preacher of true religion? Let those who value human reason at the highest rate determine.
The manner in which Socrates died was the calmest and bravest in the world, and excludes all pretence to say, that he dissembled his opinion and practice before his judges out of any fear, or meanness of spirit; vices with which he was never taxed, and of which he seems to have been incapable.
Consider then, was it possible for any man, upon the authority of Socrates, to open his mouth against the idolatry of the heathen world, or to make use of his name to that purpose, who had solemnly, in the face of his country, and before the greatest judicature of Greece, borne testimony to the gods of his country, and the worship paid them?
But to proceed. The city of Athens soon grew sensible of the injury done to the best and wisest of their citizens, and of their great mistake in putting Socrates to death. His accusers and his judges became infamous; and the people grew extravagant in doing honours to the memory of the innocent sufferer. They erected a statue, nay, a temple to his memory; and his name was had in honour and reverence. His doctrines upon the subjects of divinity and morality were introduced in the world with all the advantages that the ablest and politest pens could give; and they became the study and entertainment of all the considerable
men who lived after him. It is worth observing too, that from the death of Socrates to the birth of Christ were, if I remember right, near four hundred years; which was time sufficient to make the experiment how far the wisdom of Socrates, with all the advantages before mentioned, could go in reforming the world. And what was the effect of all this? Can you name the place where religion was reformed? Can you name the man who was so far reformed, as to renounce the superstition of his country? No: none such are to be found: and how should there? since the greater the credit and reputation of Socrates were, the more strongly did they draw men to imitate his example, and to worship as their country worshipped.
Consider, on the other side, what was the consequence of preaching the gospel. St. Paul entertained the Athenians with no fine speculations; but he laid before them, in the plainest dress, the great and momentous truths of religion: he openly rebuked their idolatry, and condemned their superstition. The gospel was published in the same maxner every where. The first preachers of it were enabled to support it by miracles, and most of them shed their blood in defence of its truth. By these means they came also to have credit and authority in the world. But in these two cases there was a great difference. The corrupt example of Socrates was a dead weight upon the purity of his doctrine, and tended to perpetuate superstition in the world: the authority and example of the apostles went hand in hand, and united their force to root out idolatry. There was this further difference too: the doctrines of Socrates could go only
among the learned; the doctrines of the gospel were artless and plain, and suited to every man's capacity.
For near four hundred years the disciples of Socrates had the world to themselves, to reform it if they could; in all which time there is no evidence remaining that the religion of the world was the better for their wisdom. But in much less time the gospel prevailed in most parts of the known world. Wherever it came, superstition and idolatry fled before it; and in little more than three centuries the empire became Christian; which completed the victory over the heathen deities.
MODERN ARGUMENT FOR THE TRUTH OF CHRISTIANITY, IN THE WANT OF SUCCESS OF OUR CHRISTIAN MISSIONARIES.
In order to judge of the argument which is drawn from the early propagation of Christianity, I know no fairer way of proceeding, than to compare what we have seen of the subject, with the success of Christian missions in modern ages. In the East India mission, supported by the Society for promoting Christian Knowledge, we hear sometimes of thirty, sometimes of forty being baptized in the course of a year, and these principally children. Of converts, properly so called, that is, of adults voluntarily embracing Christianity, the number is extremely small. 'Notwithstanding the labour of missionaries for upwards of two hundred years, and the establishments of different Christian na