ePub 版

And as to the priests, we are told, that amongst the Egyptians, in the most early times, they were judges and magiftrates * ; that kings, both there, and generally in other countries also, were chosen out of their number; or if not, they were consecrated into the priestly office before they afcended the throne t; and there was a kind of necessity for this circumstance, the priests being the highest order of nobility. In the most ancient authors we find kings and generals offering public facrifices, and performing other functions of the priesthood ; and to affront or in- , sult a priest, was reckoned one of the highest acts of impiety I. Among the ancient Britons and Gauls, in like manner, the priests. were the first in rank of nobility: they were judges of all controversies; they appointed rewards and punishments, and their decrees in all cases were finall. If we look to the Roman constitution, we shall see some parts of the priests office were always 'performed by their kings; that the priests were chofen from amongit the nobility; and the whole order enjoyed particular honours and privileges, fome of which extended even to their families **.

None, I hope, will take exception at these instances of refpect which I have noticed to have been thewn to priests in former ages. I

• Ælian var. hist. l. 14.

Homer. Ilia. I, s. v. 11. ** Liv. l. 1. Aul. Geli.

+ Plutarch. de Il. et Ofir. | Cafar, De bello Gall. 16.


mention only facts; and with no other view, than that the enemies of the gospel, who pay so much deference to the wisdom of the Heathens, may see, that in the best and most free governments among them, the priesthood was an office of very high honour: and all I would in fer from it is, that, in order to preserve a due regard for divine worship, thofe who in a peculiar manner are concerned in it, ought to be had in esteem: so the nature of the thing requires; and so the wiseft nations have always done.

Neither have I given any ground to suspect, that I have recommended public worship only as matter of good policy: I have fhewn it to be reasonable in itself, and absolutely neceffary, as we are rational accountable beings : and whereas I have infifted upon the temporal advantages that flow from it, my reason was, that as those who thew the greatest difregard to it, may be supposed to be most af. fected by what concerns their present interests; so it was judged the most likely way to gain upon them, to represent it in this light also, and to endeavour to convince them, that their conduct is destructive of every thing they themselves hold most valuable. It is no objection against the truth of religion, but rather a very strong argument for it, that it contributes to the prefent happiness of mankind, and is neceffary to the well-being of fociety; for fo do honesty, justice, truth, and gratitude : and as these virtues were not ina

[ocr errors]

vented by statesmen, but are founded in the nature and unchangeable relations of things; fo public worship, as it serves the same ends, is also derived from the fame original.

And this again may serve to prevent another fufpicion, That I have placed the Christian revelation upon the same footing with the religion of Heathens. But my subject did not lead me to speak of true or false religions, but of public religion, or public worfhip in general, as founded upon the belief of a superior invisible Power, who governs the world, in which all religions agree : the neceflity of which worship being established, let the greateft enemies of Christianity determine, if any. form ever known amongst men is to be compared with that which the New Testament prefcribes; and if, upon this very account, it does not claim our regard as a revelation from Heaven. Let its internal marks be examined ; let it be tried by the severest rules ; only let it be tried without prejudice, (which indeed the most part who engage in this inquiry feem not to be free from), and it will be found to be a religion every way worthy of God, and most wonderfully suited to the circumstances and neceflities of mankind; nay, further, that all the knowledge we have of the true God, which we accustom ourselves to boast of as natural notions, are really derived from the scriptures, and no where to be met with, except in these, or in the writings of such as are known to have copied from them.


And with respect to the external evidence, this one circumstance is unanswerable, That whereas it now prevails in many places of the earth, by the concurring testimony of all histories, it must have had a beginning much about the time affigned for it in the sacred records : and as its keenest adversaries are not able to produce any account, or give any plaufible reason, of its rife and progress, different from what is contained in the New Testament, does it not follow, by all the rules of right reasoning, that that account must be true, authentic, and genuine ? To say, that if ancient books and histories had not been lost, the falsehood of it might have appeared, is no more than fimply to affert a bare poffibility of its being false. But all external evidence in things of this nature being founded only in probability, and not in demonstration, a high degree of probable evidence is not in the least invalidated by a poflibility to the contrary. But time will not allow to infist further upon this argument.

Upon the whole, then, they who have any value for their immortal fouls, who would not chuse to live and die like beasts, without religion, without any hope of a future life; they who have any fear of Almighty God, or any fenfe. of gratitude for the blessings they have enjoyed, or may yet expect; they who have any compassion for their fellow-creatures, who would not be accessory to their eternal ruin, cannot


“ they should happen at all, will not proba. “ bly fall out till long after our time.” But this is depending too much on uncertainty : the fatal period may arrive sooner than we imagine ; and though it thould not, does it give us no pain to think, that we are helping forward the ruin of our country, and entailing misery and flavery upon our posterity, when we ought to have done all in our power to prevent it? when we might perhaps have prevented it ?

I shall add only one other confideration of the same nature, but of a more immediate influence. If a person who is a father or master of a family, shews a contempt of public worship, perhaps not from any ill prin. ciple, but merely from indolence, or because it is fashionable ; yet will not his children and fervants observe it? and will they not thereby learn impiety and immorality? He may fay, he will instruct them to the contrary. But what will his instructions avail, when they are contradicted by his own practice? Is not this the direct way to train up his children to a contempt of religion, and to teach his servants to be unfaithful and dishonest to him ? for what else can be expected from them who have such a pernicious example in their eye?

I am loth to make any particular application, but it is in vain to diffemble. If like causes produce like effects, there is too much ground to dread the consequence of the man.


« 上一頁繼續 »