Слике страница

heathen were,


With an

exception in a single instance, we are milder in the use of power and authority of every sort; and the abuse of authority is now restrained by law in cases in which the laws of ancient times allowed it. Capital punishment is not inflicted for slight. offences; nor, in the most arbitrary Christian governments, is it suddenly inflicted, upon the bare order of the sovereign, without a formal accusation, trial, conviction, sentence, and warrant of execution. The lives of children and servants are no longer

the disposal of the father of the family; nor is domestic authority maintained, as formerly, by severities which the mild spirit of modern laws rarely inflicts on the worst public malefactors. Even war has lost much of its natural cruelty; and, compared with itself in ancient times, wears a mild and gentle aspect. The first symptom of the mitigation of its horrors appeared early in the fifth century, when Rome was stormed and plundered by the Goths under Alaric. Those bands of barbarians, as they were called, were Christian; and their conduct in the hour of

conquest exhibited a new and wonderful example of the power of Christianity over the fierce passions of man. Alaric no sooner found himself master of the town, than he gave out orders that all of the unarmed inhabitants who had fled to the churches or the sepulchres of the martyrs should be spared; and with such cheerfulness were the orders obeyed, that many who were found running about the streets in a phrensy of consternation and despair were conducted by the common soldiers to the appointed places of retreat: Nor was a single article touched of the rich furniture and costly ornaments of the churches of St. Peter and St. Paul. This, you will observe, was a thing very different from the boasted examples of Pagan manners, the generosity of Camillus and Scipio's conti nence. In either of those examples, we see nothing more than the extraordinary virtue of the individual, because it was extraordinary, equally reflecting disgrace on his times and credit on himself: This was an instance of mercy and moderation in a whole army-in common soldiers, flushed with victory, and smarting under

the wounds they had received in obtaining it.

From that time forward the cruelty of war has gradually declined, till, in the present age, not only captives among Christians are treated with humanity, and conquered provinces governed with equity, but in the actual prosecution of a war it is become a maxim to abstain from all unnecessary violence: Wanton depredations are rarely committed upon private property; and the individual is screened as much as possible from the evil of the public:quarrel. Ambition and avarice are not eradicated from the heart of man; but they are controlled in the pursuit of their objects by the general philanthropy. Wars of enterprise, for conquest and glory, begin to be reprobated in the politics of the present day. Nor, in private life, have later ages seen the faithless guardian mix the poisoned cup for the unhappy orphan whose large property has been intrusted to his management.

In the virtues of temperance and chastity,

the practice of the present world is far below the standard of Christian purity; but yet the worst excesses of modern voluptuaries seem continence and sanctity, when they are set in comparison with those unnatural debaucheries of the heathen world, which were so habitual in their manners, that they stained the lives of their gravest philosophers, and made a part of even the religious rites of the politest nations.

You will remember that it is not to extenuate the sins of the present times that I am thus exact to enumerate the particulars in which our heathen ancestors surpassed us in iniquity: I mean not to justify the ways of man, but of God. The symptoms of a gradual amendment in the world, I trust, are numerous and striking. That they are the effect of Christianity, is evident from this fact, that in all the instances which I have mentioned, the perceptible beginnings of amendment cannot be traced to an earlier epoch than the establishment of the Christian religion in the Roman empire by Constantine; and immediately after that event they appeared.

[ocr errors]

The work of God therefore is begun, is going on, and will unquestionably be carried to its perfection. But let none

imagine that his own or the general conduct of the world is such as may endure the just judgment of God: Sins yet remain among us, which, without farther reformation and repentance, must involve nations in judgment and individuals in perdition.

In comparing the manners of the Christian and the heathen world, impartiality hath compelled me to remark, that in one instance (and I trust in one only) an abuse of authority, and I must add a cruelty of avarice, obtain among us Christians in the present world, not to be exceeded by the worst examples that may be found in the annals of heathen antiquity. I speak of that worse than Tyrian merchandise “in the persons of men" which is still carried on under the express sanction of the laws; and the tyranny which, in despite of law, is exercised by Christian masters on the miserable victims of that infamous traffic. In this instance, the sordid lust of gain has

« ПретходнаНастави »