« ForrigeFortsæt »
the influence of its humanizing doctrines and exalted hopes to all the ends of the earth. The command of the Redeemer to propagate his religion was, in the first instance, cheerfully obeyed by the apostles, who, in defiance of the opposition that was marshalled against them, bore the message of truth and good will into all the nations known in their days to the Greek or the Roman; and as the world became enlarged by new discoveries, their successors carried the same comfortable tidings far beyond the ancient boundaries of geographical science, into those regions where the sun was supposed to rise and set.
Nor is there any reason to believe that the authority of Christ, though continually increasing, has yet approached near to its utmost limits. On the contrary, the present state of the world affords a strong presumption, independently of the numerous predictions contained in the Bible, that the gospel will become the universal religion of mankind. Several christian states have for ages been sending forth large and flourishing colonies into every quarter of the globe : Mohammedans and heathens are not doing the same. Believers, wherever they can find admission, labour to make proselytes, whereas the adherents of other religions are either indifferent about their creeds, or proudly refuse to communicate the superior advantages which they suppose themselves to enjoy. Hence it becomes every year more and more manifest, that the kingdom of the Messiah, by the increase of its own subjects, and by the gradual accession of strangers, will, at no distant period, overspread the whole earth.
When the dark ages fell upon Europe, the views of the faithful were narrowed, and their cxertions paralysed. The apostolical example ceased to produce its wonted effect upon their minds; and yielding to the pressure of invasion which rolled down upon them from the North, the more civilized states deemed it enough to protect the archives of Christianity and the works of its greatest authors, in the sacred retreats of monastic life. All intercourse with distant countries was rendered impracticable by the barbarism which every where prevailed beyond the immediate vicinity of the two capitals of the East and West. In such circumstances, nothing could be effected by the most ardent spirit of charity or of secular enterprise. But no sooner did a way appear to be opened up beyond the limits of the empire, than the christian missionary resumed his holy office, and held himself prepared to follow either the track of the caravan through the Arabian desert, or the march of armies towards the confines of Upper Asia. The Crusades, again, more worthy of praise in their object than for the means adopted by those in whose zeal they had their origin, secured likewise a channel for the propagation of the true faith ; and, though the peaceful lessons of the New Testament could not be harmoniously associated with such projects of conquest and revenge as carried too many of the soldiers of the cross into Palestine, an opportunity was afforded for renewing a communication with the interesting tribes between the Mediterranean and the Euphrates, to whom the blessings of Christianity were first offered. From that period down to the present day, endeavours, more or less wise, have been made to extend the knowledge of revealed truth to heathen lands; and the men of our own age, not less active than their predecessors, have witnessed results more gratifying perhaps than any which have crowned the labours of the church since the close of the third century.
The religion of Christ, whether viewed in its origin or early history, makes a claim upon all who profess faith in it, for an active dissemination of its light and hopes. Its first missionaries were instructed to go forth into all the world; and the name of apostles conferred upon them in the inspired writings, denoted at once the nature of their labours, and the delegated authority confided to them by their Divine Master. Most of those qualified to teach, obeyed the solemn injunction communicated to his personal disciples; and many others, who might not have opened their hearts to such motives, accomplished
the same beneficent object, when scattered abroad by the violence of persecution. .
In the nature of things, it seems impossible, with respect to savage countries, that idolatry can be removed, or civilisation introduced, by any other means than the actual arrival of strangers who profess the true religion, and by the continued experience of the benefits which arise from cultivating the arts. The prophet Jeremiah, in the old time, put the question, “ hath any nation changed their gods, which yet are no gods ?” and the fact involved in this expostulation is confirmed by the experience of mankind in all the forms which society has ever been found to assume, and in all parts of the world hitherto laid open to the inspection of the philosopher or the divine. No tribe has ever yet been known to raise itself from barbarism into knowledge and refinement; the savage has never by his innate powers, emerged from his narrow views and gross habits, so as to originate institutions analogous to those of an instructed people ; the child of nature has not, in either hemisphere of our globe, spontaneously “ changed his gods," however contemptible, nor elevated his thoughts to the adoration of Him who is a spirit, and who must be worshipped in spirit and in truth.*
It was once an established opinion among a certain class of philosophers that the original condition of man, as he came from the hand of his Maker, differed not materially from the state in which the Hottentots and Patagonians were found by the early discoverers ; and that, in the course of ages, he had accomplished a painful passage upwards to civilisation, through the successive stages of pastoral and agricultural life. No hypothesis is less fortified than this by observation and historical research ; for there is not on record one instance of a people, in any portion of the earth, having, by their own exertions, thrown off the habits of the barbarian,
See Jeremiah, chap. ii. ver. 11, and St John's Gospel, chap. iv. ver. 24.
and engaged in the pursuits of liberal art or philosophical investigation. Hence arises a motive to the benevolent mind, even abstractedly from all considerations of religious duty, to visit with the light of knowledge the numerous tribes who are still involved in the grossest darkness, and subject to all the evils which befall man when unaided by social institutions. *
Viewed under this aspect, the annals of our race will present at once a command and an encouragement to exertion. In allusion to the humanizing effects of the gospel, a distinguished author wrote as follows with respect to our own country at an early age :-“ Even over the wild people inhabiting a country as savage as themselves, the Sun of Righteousness arose with healing under his wings. Good men, on whom the name of saint (while not used in a superstitious sense) was justly bestowed, to whom life and the pleasures of the world were as nothing so they could call souls to Christianity, undertook and succeeded in the perilous task of enlightening these savages. Religion, although it did not at first change the manners of nations waxed old in barbarism, failed not to introduce those institutions on which rest the dignity and happiness of social life. The law of marriage was established among them, and all the brutalizing evils of polygamy, gave place to the consequences of a union which tends most directly to separate the human from the brute species. The abolition of idolatrous ceremonies took away many brutalizing practices ; and the gospel, like the grain of mustardseed, grew and flourished, in noiseless increase, insinuating into men's hearts the blessings inseparable from its influence.” It is manifest, in short, that man must be
* The opinions here alluded to will be found developed with great ingenuity by the celebrated Lord Kames, in his “ History of Man." An able Answer, written by the late Dr Doig of Stirling, was published anonymously, which is understood to have shaken the faith of the learned judge in his own conclusions.
+ History of Scotland, by Sir Walter Scott (Lond. 1830), vol. i. p. 8.
roused by a foreign influence from his dream of slothful superstition ; and in the traditional history of all nations, accordingly, mention is made of a period when some benevolent or powerful stranger arrived, bringing with him the knowledge of letters or a warlike force, by means of which he changed the customs of their fathers. The Greeks have their Cadmus, to whom they attribute the gift of literature. Other tribes refer to Hercules the origin of refinement; and in all may be traced the avatar of some heavenly mind, which taught the barbarian to think and to improve his taste.
In general the savage has been exterminated rather than improved. The white man who coveted his land or his game, has driven the native of the wilderness and the forest from his accustomed haunts; offering to the wild spirits, who had never known a master, the fearful alternative of submission or death. But in the islands of the great Pacific, we are permitted to contemplate a more agreeable scene. The purpose which carried the European thither was neither conquest nor mineral treasure, nor even the more legitimate prospect of commerce, which enriches while it improves the simple cultivator of the soil. Of our own countrymen more especially it may be asserted, that the motive which induced them to renew an intercourse with the inhabitants of the Society Islands, was a desire to ameliorate their condition, by conveying to their shores knowledge, virtue, and religion.
The first expedition thither may indeed appear to have originated in more selfish feelings, as the benefit expected from it had a reference to ourselves rather than to them. About seventeen years after Captain Cook returned from his first voyage, certain merchants and planters interested in the West Indies, represented to his majesty, that the introduction of the bread-fruit-tree into those colonies might prove of the greatest advantage. The king, entering into their views, gave directions that a ship suitable for the important purpose should be forthwith prepared ; and the charge of superintending the