Page images

to be a real being, that gives testimony after death for or against him; and that he accordingly is made happy or miserable in another world. The Negroes hold that their own country is delicious above all others; and it is the belief of several of their tribes, that where-ever they die, they will return to their own country. This is a perpetual 'source of comfort, and inspires them with humanity above the other tribes. A religious belief in ancient Greece, that the souls of those who are left above ground without rites, have not access to 'Elysium, tended to promote humanity; for those who are careful of the dead, will not be altogether indifferent about the living.

Immense are the blessings that proceed from the union of pure religion with sound morality: but however immense, I boldly affirm, that they searce counterbalance the manifold evils that proceed from impure religion, indulging and even encouraging gross immoralities. A few glaring instances shall be selected. The first I shall mention is, the holding religion to consist in the belief of points purely speculative, such as have no relation to good works. The natural effect of that doctrine is, to divorce religion from morality, in manifest contradiction to the will of God. What avails it, for example, to the glory of God or to the happiness of men, whether the conception of the Virgin Mary, was maculate or immaculate ? The following few instances, selected from a great number,

number, are controversies of that kind, which for ages miserably afflicted the Christian church, and engendered the bitterest enmity, productive of destruction and slaughter among brethren of the same religion. In the fifth century, it was the employment of more than one general council, to determine, whether the mother of God, or the mother of Christ, is the proper epithet of the Virgin Mary. In the sixth century, a bitter controversy arose whether Christ's body was corruptible. In the seventh century, Christians were divided about the volition of Christ, whether he had one or two Wills, and how his Will operated. In the eighth and ninth centuries, the Greek and Latin churches divided about the Holy Ghost, whether he proceeded from the Father and Son, or only from the Father. In the eleventh century, there arose a warm contest between the Greek and Latin churches about using unleavened bread in the eucharist. In the fourteenth century, it was controverted between Pope John XXII. and the divines of his time, whether souls in their intermediate state see God, or only the human nature of Christ. Franciscans have suffered death in multitudes about the form of their hood. It was disputed between the Dominicans and Franciscans, whether Christ had any property. The Pope pronounced the negative proposition to be a pestilential and blasphemous doctrine, subversive of Catholic faith. Many councils were held at Constantinople, to deBb 2 termine

[ocr errors]

termine what sort of light it was that the disciples saw on Mount Tabor: it was solemnly pronounced, to be the eternal light with which God is encircled; and which may be termed his energy or operation, but is distinct from his nature and essence. A heap of propositions in the creed of St Athanasius, as far as intelligible, are merely speculative, such as may be adopted or rejected, without the least danger to religion, or to morality; and yet we are commanded to believe every one of them, under the pain of eternal damnation. An endless number of such propositions, adopted by the Romish church, clearly evince, that Christianity was in that church held to consist entirely in belief, without any regard to good works. Whether the Alcoran be eternal, or whether it were created, is a dispute that has occasioned much effusion of Mahometan blood. The Calif Mamoun, with many doctors, held it to have been created; but the greater number insisted, that being the word of God, it must like him be eternal. This opinion is embraced by the present Mahometans, who hold all who deny it to be infidels. One great maxim of the Brahmins contained in their ancient books,


[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

The great weight that was laid upon orthodoxy, appears from a triumphal arch erected over the tomb of Charle-magne, upon which was the following inscription: "Here lies the body of Charles, a great and orthodox emperor." And yet that orthodox Emperor could not write his name.

[ocr errors]

is, that it is better to sit than to walk, better to lie than to sit, better to sleep than to wake, better to die than to live. This is directly subversive of industry, and consequently of morality. There is among men great uniformity of opinion in matters of importance. Religious differences are generally about trifles, where liberty ought to be indulged without reserve; and yet upon these trifles are founded the bitterest enmities. It ought therefore to be a fundamental law in every church, to abstain from loading its creed with articles that are not essential: for such ar ticles tend to eradicate brotherly love, and to convert into bitter enemies, men who are fundamentally of the same faith. This leads me naturally to say a few words on religion as a branch of education, of all the most important branch. Avoiding all the points disputed among the different sects of Christians, and leaving mysteries to the future sagacity of your children if they shall be inclined to pry into them, let them know that there is a God over all, who loves the good, and is an enemy to evil-doers; that this great Being, though invisible to us, is witness to all our words and actions, and that even our secret thoughts are not hid from him. Take every opportunity to inculcate this great truth, till it make so deep an impression as to be the great regulator of their conduct. With respect to every intended action, train





Elements of Criticism, vol. ii. p. 493. edit. 5.

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

them up into the habit of inquiring first how it will appear in the sight of their Maker at the great day of judgment. This is true religion, the main support of virtue. It is all that is requisite in point of education; leaving to those who have penetration and leisure to form a more complete system.

In the next place shall be mentioned, certain articles of faith that tend to sap the very foundation of one or other moral duty. What, for example, can more effectually promote cruelty, than the creed of the Idaans, a people in the island of Borneo, That every person they put to death must attend them as a slave in the other world? This belief makes them prone to war, and occasions assassinations without end. According to the creed of the savages in Canada, the killing and burning enemies are what chiefly entitle them to be happy in another world; and that he who destroys the greatest number, will be the most happy. At the same time, they have no notion of greater happiness there, than plenty of game, great abundance of all things without labour, and full gratification of every sensual appetite. The Scandinavians had no notion of greater bliss in another world, than to drink beer out of the skull of an enemy, in the hall of Woden their tutelar deity can hatred and revenge indulged in this world be more honourably rewarded? The doctrine of tutelar deities is equally productive of hatred and revenge:


[ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »