« PreviousContinue »
"good friend, should interest himself so warmly "in what concerns God only. He hath given to "his creatures different minds and different inclinations, which naturally lead them to differ "in opinion. We admire variety in the material "world why not equally admire it in matters of "religion? Have we not then reason to believe, "that God takes pleasure in all the different forms "of worship? Had it been the intention of God, "to produce uniformity in religion, he would have "formed all men with the same mind." Bernier introduces some Gentiles of Hindostan defending their religion much in the same manner : “That
they did not pretend their law to be universal; *that they did not hold ours to be false, as, for "ought they knew, it might be a good law for "us and that God probably made many roads to "heaven."
With respect to the other cause above mentioned, the desire of putting people in the right road. To reason others into our religious principles, is natural; but it is not always prudent. I wish my neighbour to be of my opinion, because I think my opinion right: but is there no danger of undermining his religious principles, without establishing better in their stead? Ought I not to restrain my desire of making converts, when the attempt may possibly reduce them to abandon religion altogether, as a matter of utter uncertainty? If a man of clear understanding has, by
some unhappy means, been led into error, that man may be set right by fair reasoning: but beware of endeavouring to convert people of low parts, who are indebted for their creed to parents, to education, or to example: it is safer to let them rest as they are.
At any rate, let us never attempt to gain proselytes by rewards, or by terror: what other effect can such motives produce, but dissimulation and lying, parents of every secret crime. The Empress of Russia uses a method for converting her Pagan subjects of Kamskatka, no less agreeable than effectual; which is, to exempt from taxes for ten years, such of them as profess the Christian religion. This practice may be political; but it tends not to advance religion, and is destructive of morality. Terror, on the other hand, may be equally effectual, but is not altogether so agreeable. The people of Rum, one of the Hebrides, were Papists till the beginning of the present century, when in one day they were all proselyted to the Protestant faith. Maclean of Coll, their chieftain, went to the island with a Protestant minister, and ordered all the inhabitants to appear on Sunday at public worship. They came, but refused to hear a Protestant minister. The chieftain reasoned with them but finding that his reasonings made no impression, he laid hold of the most forward; and having made a deep impression on him with his
cane, pushed him into the church. The rest followed like meek lambs; and from that day have continued firm Protestants. The Protestantism of Rum is styled by their Popish neighbours the faith of the yellow stick.
To apply any means for making proselytes, other than fair reasoning, appears to me a strange perversion. Can God be pleased with using rewards or punishments, or can any rational man justify them? What then should move any one to put them in practice? I should be utterly at a loss to answer the question, but for a fact mentioned more than once above, that the rude and illiterate judge by sight only, not by reflection. They lay weight on the external visible act, without thinking of intention, which is not visible. In truth, the bulk of mankind rest upon the external profession of religion: they never think of the heart, nor consider how that stands affected. What else is it but the external act merely that moves the Romish missionaries to baptize the infants of savages even at the moment of expiring? which they prosecute with much pious ardour. Their zeal merits applause, but not their judgment. Can any rational person seriously believe, that the dipping a savage or an infant in water will make either of them a Christian, or that the want of this ceremony will precipitate them into hell? The Lithuanians, before their conversion to Christianity,
stianity, worshipped serpents, every family entertaining one as a household-god. Sigismundus, in his commentaries of Muscovy, reports the following incident. A converted Christian having persuaded a neighbour to follow his example, and, in token of his conversion, to kill his serpent, was surprised, at his next visit, to find his convert in the deepest melancholy, bitterly lamenting that he had murdered his god, and that the most dreadful calamities would befal him. Was this person a Christian more than nominally? At the end of the last century, when Kempfer was in Japan, there remained but about fifty Japan Christians, who were locked up in prison for life. These poor people knew no more of the Christian religion, but the names of our Saviour and of the Virgin Mary; and yet so zealous Christians were they, as rather to die miserably in jail, than to renounce the name of Christ, and be set at liberty. The inhabitants of the island Annoboa, in the gulf of Guinea, have been converted by the Portuguese to Christianity. No more is required of them, as Bosman observes, but to repeat a Pater Noster, and Ave Maria, confess to the priest, and bring offerings to him.
I cannot with satisfaction conclude this Sketch, without congratulating my present countrymen of Britain upon their knowledge of the intimate connection that true religion has with morality. F f