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higher degree than that which they professed, but '. believed not? As a civil institution; it not only fell short of theirs, but counteracted all their schemes of Roman grandeur, public and private. Among the Gentiles, there were many eminent, good, and learned men : Seneca, the Plinys, Taçitus, Plutarch, and Galen: the Nave Epictetus, and the Emperor Antoninus,were all of them ornaments to human nature : and if, according to the gofpel rule, neither their eminence nor learning should be adınitted in such a cause ; surely their goodness of heart; their humane and charitable acts, intitled them to the illuinination, and in course, the benefits to be derived from it. But we do not find the Christian sect even noticed in the writings of Seneca, the elder Pliny, or Plutarch : the others speak of them as perverse enthusiasts, who exacted an implicit belief of their mysterious doctrine, but did not advance a single argument in its support that could engage the attention of learned or sensible nien. Would these men have reasoned in this way had the Christian religion then appeared, as our divines affirm it now doth-A pure, benevolent, and universal system of ethics ; taught in a clear, explicit, and intelligent manner, by God himself, in the form of the Son of Man : enforced by promises of kind rewards, and threats of severe punishments in a future state, and aided by the most stupendous miracles ? Could these men, I ask,
have treated it with neglect, contempt, or derifion ? Afsuredly not; more especially if its then professors possessed and exhibited such miraculous powers. But this last (as I have remarked *) they knew was merely pretence or impofition. The religion taught, was unintelligible: the miracles adduced in support of its divine authority, not properly authenticated, and therefore disbelieved. The belief required, as necessary to falvation, was beyond their powers of conception or reasoning : and to sum up all, they were told-the obtaining this salvation depended not upon themselves, but was carried by election . When they saw the most eminent teachers of this new religion defending and propagating its truth, with the arms of deceit and falsehood; they naturally concluded the leaders were knaves, and their fol. lowers, fools. The doctrine of surrendering their property to the disposal of those teachers, did not diminish that opinion ; and could they have found faith and hope enough to commence saints ; charity forebade the leaving their children beggars. Thus circumstanced, it is not at all extraordinary that in the course of two or three hundred years, the Christian religion did not make its way among the prudent, learned, intelligent, or higher ranks of people. At length it became a state engine in the hands of an unlettered, cruel, crafty Pa. Page 235.
gan Christian Emperor ; and from that period, what it gained in power, it lost in humility, or, as St. Jerome expresses it—The Christian church by that revolution, lost as much of its virtue, as it gained of power and wealth. It is a melancholy reflection that this progression of loss and gain uniformly accompanied each other through ten successive centuries : at the end of which, the church of Christ; at the expence of every virtue, acquired the highest power, and the most dazling grandeur that dark period could possibly yield. In those deplorable ages, the despotic Itandard of the Christian church waved with insolent triumph over the subdued princes of Europe. Their subjects, debarred from every method of information, easily admitted the infallibility of the church; readily submitted to its authority ; and blindly executed its decrees. Absolved from their oath of allegience, they readily fought against their natural or lawful prince; unless he submitted, not only his fpiritual, but his tempo. ral affairs to the same authority. Absolution was an inexhaustable fund of wealth ; and the facility with which it was obtained, stimulated them to every vice under heaven. In those dark ages, if a gleam of light ifsued from a mind better informed; it was iminediately quenched in the blood of its author. If any man, perchance so informed ; questioned the authority of this felfR 2
created power, or even doubted the truth of its most absurd dogmnas; to reclaim hiin by reasoning, in charity and brotherly-love was never thought of; the rack, sword, or fire, was a shorter and more certain method : by there he must be subdued ; and thus a power obtained by fraud, was suitably maintained by violence. Our divines tell us that these disorders were occasioned by the natural depravity of human nature, but this I do not admit; I cannot think man is prone to do evil for evil's fake, either naturally, politically, or religiously : they tell us that naturally we certainly are, being by nature born in sin, and the children of wrath : to release us from this curse, which they call original fin, we are told was the primary object for which Christ came into the world, and this they call the redemption. Were this the case, it must appear extraordinary, that he himself never mentioned this circumstance: nor uid his apoilles in all their preachings recorded by St. Luke under the direction of St. Paul, say one word about it. The latter has indeed men. tioned it in four different epistles (Romans ch. v. 1 Corinthians ch. xv. Ephesians ch. ii. and i Timothy ch. ii.) but that I believe is one of the things in Paul's writings of which St. Peter mild. ly said, was hard to be understood. Can it be supposed that all the descendants of Adam, who received a natural body by permission ; and a su.
pernatural soul by the bounty of an all-wife and allmerciful Father: received at the same time, propenfity and power to do evil for which they were to be punished ; but neither power or propensity to do good; by which they might obtain mercy? Hard fate indeed were this the case ; and man, with reafon, might address his maker in the termis pointed out by St. Paul-'Why dost thou yet find fault? ? For who hath resisted thy will ?' Romans ch. ix. v. 19. And after all, What was this fin of Adam's for which his innocent descendants were thus severely, and to human reason it must appear un-. justly punished ? He was, by his maker, placed in a situation delightful to the senses, and master of every thing around him but the produce of two trees: of those, as a trial of his obedience I apprehend, he was forbidden to tafte. Whether he was deceived, or how he was tempted into a breach of this command; may be worth the enquiry if we mean to extenuate the crime: the crime of disobedience fimply, unattended with any other tin, or injury. For this however we are told, he was driven from Paradise; the seat of pleasure, indolence, and plenty : obliged to earn a poor fubfiftance by had labour under an inclement sky: and subjected to decay, and death. Punishments, which our ideas of justice tell us, were at least adequate to the offence. His pofterity felt them likewise; and, by comparison, in a greater degree than was necessary : Adam was