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in charge to deliver from Heaven. But, if an opinion be closely, though incidentally, connected with religious faith and conscientious practice ; if it be interwoven with the strongest hopes and fears of the human breast; if it be of a nature to disturb the weak and distract the timorous, it is the duty of a prophet, as it would be the duty of any other enlightened person, to undeceive his brother on a point of such a nature, no less than it would be his duty to relieve him from a groundless alarm, or to rouse him from a dream of agony.
“Now, that a belief in evil spirits, whether true or false, is one of a gloomy and disquieting character; that it is one which may produce the worst results when indiscreetly and too curiously contemplated; that it has drawn some into the most loathsome guilt, and plunged others into the acutest suffering; that it has been the usual source of religious and magical imposture; and that its abuses may be traced through innumerable shades of human misery, from the fears of childhood to the ravings of frenzy, our antagonists are so far from denying that they ground one principal objection against its truth on its supposed inconsistency with the wisdom and mercy of our Creator. The solidity of this objection, I will not pause to consider; but it must be allowed, on the principles of our opponents themselves, that when even the incidental consequences of an opinion are thus dismal, that opinion is one wbich, if untrue, it well becomes a prophet to expose in its proper weak
“ If the confutation of such an error as is here described, so widely spread, so practically calamitous, had been the principal, nay the single object of our Saviour's mission to mankind, will our antagonists deny that, on their view of the question, it would have been a worthy and sufficient reason for a display of infinite power, and a revelation of infinite wisdom? But, when instances of a belief in evil spirits and of its wretched consequences encountered the prophet in every street, and haunted him through every province of Israel, can we suppose that, if the world were indeed deceived, a prophet of God would not have undeceived it; or that he would not have done so effectually and for ever, rather than bave applied, by humouring its prejudices, a temporary palliative in the manner most likely to confirm its fears in future? A child flies weeping to its parent to complain that there is a lion in the wood: will the parent content himself with administering some childish comfort which will quiet his cries for a time, but leave their cause unabated, and his terrors ready to revive when he shall next approach the fatal thicket ? Or will he not rather remove his alarm by convincing him of his folly, and by shewing him the true nature and security of that wood which his fancy has peopled with monsters ?
“But if a simple acquiescence in a gloomy prejudice be unworthy of the Messiah's character, what shall be said of the fact that the Messiah avd His apostles, by their express words and significant actions, encouraged and confirmed this prejudice ? Not only do they, from the credited fact that evil spirits existed, reason as an argument • ad homines,' and an argument taken from the notions of those with whom they converse; they appear, in every instance, to have spoken and acted in the very manner in which they must have done had they been them
selves persuaded of its truth; and there are some remarkable expressions of which, if they are not positive assertions of the fact, it is not easy to guess the meaning. Wben St. Paul informs us that 'we wrestle not with flesh and blood, but with the principalities and powers of evil,' can this be any otherwise understood than as an assurance that such powers exist distinct from man, and that men are called on to contend with them? When our Lord, in describing beforehand the most awful transaction in which the human race can be parties, informs us that everlasting fire is prepared for the devil and his angels,' would He have used such expressions if no such angels existed ? When he commanded the unclean spirits, by that name, to depart from their mortal victims, can we conceive Him to have been, in such a case, addressing a nonentity, or that He would have lent the sanction of His word to a popular ejror, when he might have cured the maniac by a touch, or bave said to the epileptic person, ‘be thou whole of thy plague !' What would have been our opinion of Zoroaster or Mohammed if they had, in like manner, administered to the fears of the vulgar, and taken credit to themselves for the defeat of imaginary enemies? Or, if we shrink from such thoughts as applied to the Celestial Author of our faith, what other conclusion can we arrive at, but that the doctrine which His solein expressions countenanced, is true ?
“ But, if it be thus difficult to explain away the words of our Lord, there are some of his actions, if possible, still less equivocal. I do not mean to enter on the extensive and difficult question of the manner in which evil spirits are said to possess human beings, or the degree of power which they exercise over their victims. But, if in the history of the supposed demoniac of Gadara, we apprehend no other person to be concerned but our Lord and His distracted patient; if it were no more than the diseased imagination of the sufferer which answered in the demon's name; and if it were the ravings of phrenzy only which desired that his tormentor might take shelter in the swine, can we suppose that our Lord, not content with simple acquiescence, not content with conforming his speech to the hallucination of the frantic man, would, by afflicting the herd with a like disease, have miraculously confirmed the delusion? Do our antagonists believe this history? What manuscript, what authority, what ecclesiastical tradition can they plead for rejecting it from the place which it bolds in the writings of three out of the four evangelists? Is the restoration of Lazarus to life less wonderful in tself, or more credibly attested? Or, what further reasons have we for believing that our Lord restored the leper to health, than that He cast out devils from the man who had the legion ?' I am addressing a congregation of Christians; they are Christians against whom I am now disputing; and I call, by that holy name, on you and on them, to beware how you select, according to your unsupported fancy or prejudice, those passages of the word of truth to which you will or will not give credit. Be our religion true or false, the New Testament is our only record of its facts and its doctrines. If the religion be false, that time is but lost which is spent in culling probabilities from a mass of error; but, if true, woe, woe to them who refuse the testimony of God
and His prophets, however strange to mortal ears the subject of that testimony may appear !
“But, brethren, is it indeed incredible, is it indeed contradictory to reason, to the light of nature, and to the general analogy of God's works, that, as there are wicked men, there should be wicked spirits also ? If the existence of evil is allowed at all, at what point in the scale of created being, can we decide that it shall be found no longer ? Imperfection of some kind or other, yea, imperfection of every kind must cleave more or less to all but the Infinitely Good, and Wise and Mighty. If there are invisible beings (and that some such there are but few have ventured to question) the probability, regarding it as a subject of philosophical analogy only, must be that oppression and malice will have found their room in the unseen as well as the visible world, and that the Judge of all will have had occasion, how seldom soever, to tax not only men but angels, with folly. And, since His providence on earth is accustomed to turn the fierceness of man to His praise, and by the blind and reluctant labours of the wicked, to work out His own holy will, and the general happiness of His creation, what wonder that He should, in like manner, employ the envy and malice of His apostate angels, and endure, with much long-suffering, those vessels of wrath fitted for destruction, to the intent that, by their means, the patience of His saints may be known, and that they whom He thinks fit to lead through a state of trial, may, like their Divine Master in His human nature, be made perfect through suffering !
“I am not pleading the cause of those revolting excrescences with which the doctrine in question has, from time to time, been defaced and encumbered. We may dismiss to the abodes of error and superstition the foolish and wicked fables which have alarmed our childhood, and been, to our youth, the occasion of mockery. We shall even do well to distinguish, carefully, the little which God's word discloses as to the invisible world, from the adventurous conjectures of the ancient fathers, and the glowing dreams of Milton and Klopstock. Of the particular crime or crimes which first deprived these angels of God's favour; of their previous rank, and of the exact degree of power which they are still permitted to exercise; of the mode of their present existence, whether purely intellectual or united to some subtile vehicle ; of the means by which they communicate with, and tempt the soul, and the influence which they exert over the material frame of nature; whether any portion of God's threatened wrath has already been poured out on them; or whether they have tasted, as yet, no more than the expectation of judgment to come, too little is revealed in Scripture to enable us to decide, and they are subjects on which we may well continue ignorant. It is enough for us to know, and thus much, it may be thought, is clearly communicated in Scripture, that our dangers are great, and our adversaries mighty and numerous." pp. 87-94.
From the sermon, of which the title is “the Gospel preached to the Poor," we extract the following just and striking observations upon one of the most important points of difference between the states of society in ancient and in modern times. We
would remark, by the way, that such general causes operating upon public opinion and national character, are far more worthy of the attention of political philosophers, in drawing inferences by analogy, than the forms of government, the nominal constitutions on which so much stress is generally laid. The superiority of the modern world, in this particular, is an advantage which it seems scarcely possible to overrate.
“ The truth, however, is, (and it is one, which no one Christian can recollect without abundant gratitude for the far different spirit, by wbich his own Divine Teacher was animated,) that, before the coming of our Lord, and, at this day with very few exceptions in those countries where the light of the Gospel is as yet unknown, this duty of enlightening and improving the bulk of mankind was a duty of which the obligation was not perceived at all, or which, if perceived, was very imperfectly practised even by those who professed themselves most concerned for the honour and welfare of the human race, and who had themselves obtained the least imperfect view of the hopes, the duties, and destinies of humanity.
“I do not only mean that the possessors of a persecuted and dangerous truth were, among the heathen nations of antiquity, disposed to confine its knowledge to a few confidential disciples; I do not only mean that the purer deists of Greece and Rome bad avowedly an outer and inner school, of which the latter was by far the least numerous. The ancient pbilosopher, however bright his views might seem amid the surrounding darkness of his countrymen, had not that clearness of hope, nor that fulness of conviction, nor that assurance of the approbation and protection of an all-bounteous Master, which aloue can be ordinarily sufficieut to induce men to struggle against the madness of nations, and which, in the case of the early Christians, converted martyrdom into a crown. But I would more particularly urge on your notice, that the few thus selected, were such, generally, as paid the bighest for admission; that gratuitous instruction was, in few instances, indeed, accorded by the moralists of Paganism; that Socrates himself, the most disinterested of philosophers) was, in point of fact, chiefly attended by the richest and noblest of the youth of Athens; and that even the religious systems, such as they were, which were patronised by the state, and, on the belief of which by the multitude, the public tranquility, the public honesty, the sanction of oaths, and the security of every man's prosperity and life depended, were never, or in no effectual manner, communicated and enforced to the great bulk of those who, it was expected, were to be swayed by them.
“Of the stupendous fabrics, which, in the youth and vigour of superstition, the genius of abomination and idolatry, erected on the shores of the Euphrates, the Tigris, or the Nile, enough may yet be traced amid their ruins to inform us that the systems, which they were intended to uphold, were made up of exclusion and mystery. A long and painful initiation, which the man of leisure could alone command; a succession of expiatory sacrifices, which the poor man could not supply; a peculiar and inconvenient habit, which the laborious man could not
adopt, determined, without any further or more express limitation, the numbers and situation in life of the Chaldean and Assyrian aspirants in theology. In Egypt, the profession and attainment of divine knowledge was, for many ages restricted to a single tribe; and with how much care that priesthood concealed their institutes from the general eye, their continued and almost exclusive employment of a character known to themselves alone is, in itself, a sufficient evidence. The Greeks and Romans (however communicative of other science,) in these respects followed the example of their Coptic and Chaldaic masters : and it is no less true than strange, that for the diffusion of the most accredited doctrines, for the elucidation of the most popular and honoured superstitions, for the persuasion to the most sacred and acknowledged duties, it does not appear that, so far as the poor and the populace were concerned, any provision was made in the wisest republics of antiquity; or that such provision was supplied, in any single instance, by the religious zeal or the enlightened benevolence of individuals or voluntary associations,
“ The populace had their priests indeed, and sacrifices, and hymos, and symbols. But the priests were sacrificers, not preachers; their business was but to scatter incense on the flames, to bind the sacred garland round the victim's horns, to lead him to the block and to slaughter him in the method prescribed by their ancestors. The sacrifices, by themselves, could afford as little of instruction as of real expiation ; the hymns were often studiously muttered in an under tone, and reverentially couched under obscure and obsolete expressions; while the symbols had need to be themselves explained, and were professedly thus explained in mysteries, from wbich the slaves and the populace were excluded. To these last no source of knowledge remained but a few ancient poems, a few unauthorized and discordant traditions; legends of which the wealthier and more educated classes hardly affected to conceal their scorn, any more than they did of that vulgar, whose appellation was synonimous with profane, and whom they excluded, under that name, from all participation in the most sacred ceremonies of their common religion.
Accordingly, it was not for the poor that the tree of knowledge grew. The rulers and law-givers of the world had fenced around its stem with far other guard than the sword of the ancient cherubim, and repelled, with more than neglect their subjects and their brethren from all familiarity with the topics, in which all mankind are the most deeply interested. Enough, it was apprehended, for the cause of truth, enough for the welfare of mankind, and that obedience in which their welfare consisted, that the wealthy and the learned should understand the nature and the will of the Deity; that they alone should take their seats bebind the scenes of the political engine, and, by the great pageant which they guided of religious mummery, of incense and idols, should keep in awe those multitudes, whom they cared not to improve, and whom they secretly dreaded to enlighten.” pp. 256-260.
The sermon on “God's Dealings with Pharaoh,” begins in the following beautiful and noble strain :