ePub 版

in the department of biblical criticism, antiquities, ecclesiastical history, and the kindred branches. In matters of pure reasoning, the German churches have produced no authors, who can stand in comparison with the greatest English theological writers, such as Locke, Edwards, Butler, Berkeley, and many others. In the department of the evidences of christianity, particularly,—to which the work before us belongs,-no nation of Europe can produce a parallel to the stores of profound and original thought, which have been accumulating for more than a century in the English language. It is unfortunate, therefore, for Reinhard's Plan, that at a period of such raised expectation from German writers, it must stand in competition with that class of productions, in which we already most excel; and especially, as the infidel speculations which it opposes have scarcely ever been heard of in this country.

In Germany, however, at the time of its first publication, (about fifty years since,) such a work was really of high importance; and we have abundant proof, that its influence was salutary. The poet Lessing had recently printed a series of papers under the title of the Wolfenbuttel Fragments. The last of these contained an attack on christianity, in a treatise on "the object of Christ and his disciples." The original plan of Christ, according to this treatise, was, to establish a royal government on the ruins of the Jewish state. With this view, he repaired with his followers to Jerusalem at the feast of the Passover, and made an inflammatory address to the assembled multitudes, for the purpose of exciting them to rebellion. Though favorably received at first, he was finally deserted by the people; and being apprehended by the government, was put to death. The Wolfenbuttel Fragments were followed by works of a similar character, in which the followers of Christ are represented as having changed his plan into a scheme of religious domination, which they attempted to carry into effect through the instrumentality of secret societies!

Strange as it may seem, these theories, which would have overwhelmed their authors with ridicule in almost any other country, were received with applause in Germany, where in long succession have been engendered, "perverse, all monstrous all prodigious things." A defense of christianity was therefore necessary on these points, and it was undertaken by Dr. Reinhard, Professor of Theology at Wittemberg, and afterwards court preacher at Dresden. The object of his treatise was to show, that Jesus Christ in his mission to our world and labors in it, had in his mind, as a teacher of religion, a fixed design and plan; that this plan was originally unique, and superlatively benevolent; that the very conception of it under the circumstances that then existed, presupposed the possession of such intellectual and moral qualities, as

showed him to be a most extraordinary person, and a divine teacher sent from God.

During Reinhard's lifetime, four editions of this work were published, each of which received considerable additions from the author; and since his death, a fifth edition has been issued under the superintendence of Dr. H. L. Heubner, Professor of Theology at Wittemberg, who has also added many valuable notes, and an appendix of about ninety pages.

Three things are mentioned as appertaining to the plan of Christ deserving illustration,-its compass, its character, and the manner in which it was to be carried into effect. His plan was not limited in its extent to Judea, but designed to embrace the whole world,all Gentile nations as well as Jews,-and to extend its effects to the latest time. This is argued from his conduct, his general language, and the doctrines he inculcated. In the same way it is shown, that it was not the object of his plan to establish a worldly or temporal kingdom, but a moral and spiritual one, a kingdom of truth and virtue: The principal objects of improvement were to be religion, morality, and society. To show the necessity of such improvement, Reinhard here enters into a somewhat lengthened discussion, in which he has gone over to some extent, the ground traversed by Leland, in his "Advantage and Necessity of the Christian Revelation." In accomplishing this plan, it was not designed by Christ to employ physical force, or to set in motion the springs of a secret society, but simply to put forth, in the most gentle and persuasive manner, a moral influence. These facts are illustrated principally by quotations from the evangelists; and these illustrations constitute the first of the three parts, into which the book is divided.

To a mere English reader, it may seem idle to argue such a point; but since it had been gravely called in question by German writers, it was proper for Reinhard to prove by quotations from the New Testament, what is obvious to every child of ten years old, who has enjoyed the benefits of sabbath school instruction. The argument for the excellence of christianity, derived from the conception of such a plan,was perhaps new, and is certainly valid--worthy of being added to the accumulated stores of evidence collected from other quarters. Still, it derives all its force from a previous fact, viz. the adaptation of this plan to the moral and physical constitution, the circumstances and capacities, and the wants and desires of mankind, in all ages and countries. On this subject Reinhard touches indeed, towards the close of the volume, but with very little of that force which is given to this part of the argument by the English writers. That Christ's plan was admirably adapted to the condition of human nature, and not only designed but eminently fitted to accomplish a

particular object-the formation of a character every where essentially the same-is a fact susceptible of moral demonstration. It is a fact, too, calculated to produce not only conviction, but an indelible impression on every reflecting mind, and to bespeak a most favorable hearing for all the particulars of this plan. It constitutes that glorious peculiarity in the religion of Jesus, which makes itwhat can be said of no other religion upon earth-pre-eminently the religion of man.

In his second part, Reinhard brings into view a greater variety of illustration, and attempts to show, that, antecedent to Christ, a benevolent plan designed to embrace and benefit the whole human family, had never been devised by any individual.

Among the nations of antiquity there were many men highly distinguished for their magnanimity and other noble qualities, and from whose actions and enterprises much good resulted to the people around them; but none of them seem to have extended their views beyond a very limited circle, or to have thought of benefiting other nations by their plans of benevolence. They were characterized by no bold and prospective thought, or benevolent and capacious views of human society; indeed, the circumstances of the age and country in which they respectively lived, were altogether unpropitious for raising up a man, who could bear a comparison with Jesus.

Reinhard examines the prominent enterprises and benevolent plans of the founders of states and of legislators, among whoni are reckoned Numa, Lycurgus, Solon, and Pythagoras. Though these and some others possessed minds of great capacity, and, in consideration of their exertions and influence, deserve to be classed among the benefactors of mankind; yet their plans were necessarily selfish and contracted, and they showed themselves wholly incompetent to devise and put in a course of execution one of a truly benevolent character and of universal application. To awaken among the citizens kind and philanthropic feelings towards foreigners, seemed not to enter into their views or wishes. Hence their plans can bear no comparison with those of Christ.

He next examines the claims of the distinguished heroes and patriots of antiquity. Of these many are named, who stood conspicuous on account of their noble deeds and services rendered to their native countries. But the luster of these deeds, and the merit to which they might otherwise be entitled, is greatly diminished by the injury they inflicted on other nations; and in respect to their intellectual and moral qualities, and their plans for the good of others, they sink immeasurably in the comparison. The picture is not materially changed by bringing to view the characters and actions of the most eminent kings and statesmen, or even the fabulous

accounts of Osiris and Hercules. It might be supposed, however, that one might be found, if any where, among the celebrated philosophers and learned men of antiquity, who would be entitled to the gratitude of the world, for his successful and comprehensive plans of benevolence. But an extended and careful examination of these, leads to a different conclusion. None of them, except Socrates, possessed a character or left memorials worthy of much consideration here; and even Socrates appears to infinite disadvantage by the side of Jesus. The comparison drawn between them by Reinhard, reminds us of the celebrated one by Rousseau; and though inferior to that in point of eloquence, is worthy of perusal.

Having spoken particularly of the various philosophers among the Greeks and Romans, and examined the prominent features and general tendency of their systems, together with the peculiarities appertaining to the Epicureans and Stoics, Reinhard arrives at the following conclusion.

"In view of all that has now been said I believe, that, from the influence exerted by philosophers in regard to the general good among the Greeks and Romans, it must be inferred, that none who lived before the founder of Christianity, can ever have conceived the idea of forming a plan of universal benevolence; for if so, they would certainly have left some traces of it in their actions and enterprises. The most of them indeed did but little for their own native country; how then could they have extended their views beyond it? Moreover, as a body, they were all destitute of the courage requisite for removing out of the way, the insipid religion that prevailed among the people, which was the grand object that opposed the progress of general information. This circumstance of itself is sufficient to prove, that these men were incapable of forming any great resolution in favor of wisdom and virtue, and devoting all their powers to the general good of mankind." p. 70.

There is yet another class to be examined, who, in some respects, appear in a more interesting and commanding point of view, than any that have been contemplated. Says Reinhard,

It remains for us now to cast a glance at that class of the meritorious men of antiquity, who may, in the next place, be compared with the founder of christianity, namely, the founders of religions. In this respect, a survey of the whole of antiquity presents us with very little. Most of the ancient religions had no author, as far as we know, but appear to have been originated gradually by the united operation of various causes; and those that had, were miserable superstitions, prejudicial to morality and happiness, and will not authorize us to reckon those who introduced and perfected them, among the benefactors of mankind. What Plato and other discerning men among the Greeks, thought of the poets of their nation, considered as the authors and propagators of mythology and the popular religion, is well known; as also how they found it necessary to animadvert upon the pernicious influence which such fables and representations exerted upon morals, and to take measures for its diminution. Whatever might be said respecting the mythology of the Greeks, is equally applicable, and in some respects more so, to the various kinds of superstition which prevailed among other nations. None of these religions was, in any respect, calculated for great and extensive plans. Indeed, every one of them contained so much in its fundamental

principles and precepts, of a national and local character, that it could not well be imparted to several nations.

In the whole circle of antiquity, therefore, before Jesus, only three men can be discovered, that exhibit the dignity of benevolent founders of religions, and of course deserve an honorable mention in this place; namely, Moses, Zerdusht or Zoroaster, and Kong-fu-tsee or Confucius. pp. 177. 178.

To all these, Reinhard gives full credit for their benevolent plans and labors, and makes many allowances for the peculiar and untoward circumstances of the age and country, to which they respectively belonged. But, after all, they were, though somewhat above the ordinary rank, only common men, subject to like passions and imperfections with others; and, as founders of religions, entitled to little respect when compared with Jesus.

A much lower place is assigned to the priests of the ancient religions; for, though it was their appropriate business to preserve and perpetuate true religion, and promote the best interests of society, they were tyrannical and licentious in their character, and notorious for excluding from the people all new light, creating divisions, and favoring a great variety of the most abominable superstitions and licentious practices. Thus instead of being auxiliaries, they became powerful hindrances to the prevalence of knowledge, truth, and morality.

Hitherto, therefore, we have searched in vain among all the benefactors of the human race to be met with in antiquity, in order to find a man, who thought in as great, noble and benevolent a manner as the founder of christianity, and succeeded in the attainment of enlarged views and the formation of plans of general utility. The result of our investigations is manifestly this: The human race have at all times had great men, who, whenever circumstances required, and special occasion presented, with a noble solicitude, in various ways devoted all their powers to the welfare and improvement of their brethren in the respective countries to which they belonged. The state of the age, however, in which they lived, and the mode of thinking then prevalent, restricted them to narrow limits, and unhappily induced those spirits which were the most capable of bold undertakings, to confine their attention to plans, which savored more of warlike courage and strength, and a disposition to conquer others, than of rational benevolence and gentle goodness of heart. Benevolent views extending to all, and plans intended for the good of mankind at large, were unheard of in antiquity. The standard which people then possessed, was a standard for estimating a greatness of mind entirely different from that boundless wisdom and goodness, which grasp at the world, and are wholly engaged in the universal diffusion of knowledge, virtue and happiness. pp. 185, 186.

As the whole field of ancient history and biography has been passed over in examining this general subject, a search is finally made among the fictitious personages of ancient poetry; but it is found, that the character of Jesus "sha:nes to silence the muses of paganism," and stands pre-eminent and unique on the page of this world's history. It imparted a sacredness and permanent grandeur to the very ground on which he trod. His plan, therefore, appears to be original and unparalleled; the production of a mind

« 上一頁繼續 »