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more but justice to acknowledge, that the spirit of persecution was not more eminent in it, thari zeal

for

1

despotism of the Roman government; and successive irruptions of barbarians, had sunk the Roman people, had filled them with superstitious terrors, and disposed them to embrace any religion that promised happiness either here or in another world. Luckily, the new religion was that of Jesus Christ. The meek spirit of the gospel would in time have prevailed over a religion that was grossly idolatrous : but, unhappily, the zeal of the new converts, and their abhorrence of idolatry, was not confined to argument, but was vented with all the violence of religious hatred. Here, the Man got the better of the Christian. Those of the established religion became equally violent, through the infection of passion ; and mutual persecution knew no bounds.

This appears to be a fair account of the mutual persecution between Christians and Pagans. But persecution did not stop there ; it raged among different sects of Christians no less than formerly against the common enemy. This requires to be accounted for. Acuteness and subtility formed the character of the Greeks. Every man éminent for learning had his followers: in philosophy many sects were formed, and much dispůtation and wrangling ensued. The Christian religion was early introduced into Greece ; and its votaries were infected with the spirit of the nation ; the slightest differences occasioned disputes; and sects were formed upon tlie slightest differences. In the gospel, eternal happiness is promised to those who believe in Jesus Christ. The true sense was perverted by the bulk of Christians; and salvation was annexed to the mere act of belief, without regard to good works. to such a doctrine: they conceive belief to be an easy matter, as it puts no restraint upon their passions : they are extremely willing to believe, provided they be left frce to act as they

pleasc.

Men are prone

for making converts. The former is retiring out of the world, and I wish it most profound rest,

never

please. Thus as the whole of religion was understood to rest upon belief, the most minute differences in belief, became of the highest importance. That Christ was a divine person sent by God to correct and reform mankind, is the belief of the Arians. This is not believing in Christ, say the orthodox. “ You must believe, that he is the Son of God, and equal to “ the Father.” This was a capital dispute. But the spirit of disputation did not rest there; every trifle was made a snbject of wrangling; and hence persecution without end. Violent passions were thus encouraged among Christians; and even the most unmanly vices were meritorious to promote the interest of one sect against another. It became a maxim, that ill may be done in order to bring about good; and accordingly every deceit was put in practice by clergymen, not excepting forgery, in support

of their own sect. Such practices were common as early as the third century. The persecuting spirit continues in vigour among the Roman Catholics, against those who deny the infallibility of their sovereign pontiff. It is high treason to disregard his authority; and rebels are persecuted with fire and sword in this world, and with eternal damnation in the next. No sooner had Protestants renounced the Papal authority, than they gave vent to persecution against one another. America was the refuge of many dissenters from the Church of England, to avoid persecution at home. But scarce were they established there, when they raised a violent persecution against Quakers, the most innocuous of all sects.

Zeal for a new religion is immoderate. It cools gradually, and at last vanishes where that religion has been long established, and is peaceably submitted to. Then it is, that a salutary truth is discovered, That people of different religions,

nay

never again to awake. People begin to be ashamed of it, as of a garment long out of fashion. Let the other continue for amusement : it is innocent; and if it do no good, it is not productive of so much harm.

The desire of making converts proceeds from two different causes. In superstitious zealots, it proceeds from an opinion, that all who differ from them are in the road to damnation : for which reason, there is a rage of making converts among Roman Catholics; who, without ceremony, deliver over to the flames of hell, every person who is not of their communion. The other cause is more natural: every man thinks himself in the right, especially in matters of consequenee: and, for that reason, he is happy to find others of his opinion *. With respect to the first cause, I beg attention to the following considerations; not with any hope of converting zealots, but to prevent, if

possible, possible, others from becoming such: In none of the works of God is variety more happily blended with uniformity, than in the formation of man. Uniformity prevails in the human face with respect to eyes, nose, mouth, and other capital parts : variety prevails in the expressions of these parts, serving to distinguish one person from another, without hazard of error. In like manner, the minds of men are uniform with respect to their passions and principles; but the various tones and expressions of these, form different characters without end. A face destitute of a nose or of a mouth, is monstrous : a mind destitute of the moral sense, or of a sense of religion, is no less so. But variety of expression in different faces is agreeable, because we relish variety; and a similar variety in the expressions or tones of passion, ought to be equally agreeable. Endless differences in temper, in taste, and in mental faculties, that of reason in particular, produce necessarily variety in sentiment and in opinion. Can God be displeased with such variety, when it is his own work? He requires no uniformity, except with respect to an upright mind and clear conscience, which are indispensable. Here at the same time is discovered an illustrious final cause. Different countenances in the human race, not only distinguish one person from another, but promote society, by aiding us to chuse a friend, an associate, a partner for life. Differences in opinion and sentiment have still more beneficial effects: they fouse the attention, give exercise to the understanding, and sharpen the reasoning faculty, With respect to religion in particular, perfect uniformity, which furnisheth no subject for thinking nor for reasoning, would produce languor in divine worship, and make us sink into cold indifference. How foolish then is the rage of making proselytes? Let every man enjoy his native liberty, of thinking as well as of acting ; free to act as he pleases, provided only he obey the rules of morality; equally free to think aş he pleases, provided only he acknowledge the Great God as his maker and master, and perceive the necessary connection of religion with morality. Strict uniformity in other matters, may be compared to a spring-day, calm and serene; neither so hot as to make us drop a garment, nor so cold as to require an addition; no wind to ruffle, nor rain to make shelter necessary. We enjoy the sweet scene for a moment: we walk, we sit, we muse-but soon fall asleep, Agitation is the element of man, and the life of society. Let us not attempt to correct the works of God: the attempt will betray us into absurd errors. This doctrine cannot be better illustrated than by a conversation, reported by the Jesuit Tachard, between the King of Siam, and a French ambassador, who, in his master's name, urged that king to embrace the Christian religion. “I am surprised,” said his Majesty of Siam, “ that the King of France, my

nay even of different sects, may live peaceably together. In England and Holland, men are permitted to worship God their own way, provided they give no disturbance to society. Holland has given to mankind a glorious example, not only of universal toleration, but of permitting men, without regard to difference of religion, to enjoy all the privileges of a citizen. Even the Jews in Surinain are admitted to bear a part in the government. And that laudable example is copied by Britain with respect to the Roman Catholics in the island Gre.. nade.

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

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