Billeder på siden

is in ancient Chinese philosophy something very similar to the unintelligible numbers of Pythagoras which are introduced into the theory of the universe. Heaven and earth, it is said, assumed, by the operation of some internal principle, their present order, from a previously existing chaotic mass; and a supposed dual or twofold energy co-operated in the formation of creatures and of gods-and heaven is now the highest power in nature superior to the gods. Even this clod of earth on which we tread, is the second power in nature, and superior to the gods. Heaven earth, gods and men, is the order in which the exist encies recognized by the Chinese are often placed: but at other times the gods are excluded, as their existence is, by some of the philosophers considered uncertain; and then heaven, earth, and man, are the three great and coequal powers. This atheistical theory which is at the foundation of the public belief, and influences also the superstitions of the religionists of China, induces in the human mind great pride and impiety, even when superstitious observances are attended to. It is true that in some of the most ancient written documents in China, which Confucius collected and edited, there is a more distinct recognition of the supreme God, than is to be found in any thing that he taught as his own; or that the learned of China, in subsequent ages, have advanced; for I believe it is a fact that man, when left to himself, sinks into, never rises from, Atheism or idolatry; and the written word of God is necessary to bring him back. Exclusive of the system of Confucius, there are, you know, in China, two other systems which make much more use of the gods than his, and which acknowledge a future state of rewards and punishments. These systems enjoin fastings, and prayers, and penances, and masses for the dead; and threaten the wicked with varied punishments, in different hells, in a separate state; or with poverty, or disease, or a brute nature, when they shall be born again into this world.

The doctrines of Laou-keun who lived at the same time as Confucius (or Kung-foot-tsze) is mixed with notions which he is supposed to have collected in the western parts

of the world about the era of Pythagoras. He makes the incomprehensible Taou, the eternal Reason or Logos, the supreme principle: and there are Europeans who suppose that when he says "One produced a Second; Two produced a Third; and Three produced all things;" he refers to opinions which he had heard concerning the Triune God of the Sacred Scriptures. His followers represent him as having been often incarnate; as a teacher of mankind. They inculcate austerities and abstractions, for the purpose of attenuating the grosser part of human nature, and gradually rising to a sublime, spiritual, and divine state; and they have in different ages devoted themselves much to the visionary pursuits of alchemy, and an attempt to exist without food and without respiration, supposing that the breath could circulate round the system as the blood does; and so respiration would be unnecessary, and man immortal.

[ocr errors]

These people, as well as the third class of religionists in China, the Foo-too, or Budha sect, which was, at the close of the first century, brought from India to China, believe the transmigration of souls. They both of them have priests and priestesses, who live as the monks and nuns of Europe; and who are licensed by the state; but none of them receive any emoluments from it. The sect of the Learned, who profess to be followers of Confucius, and who fill the offices of government, employs no priests. Fathers, and Magistrates and Princes worship, and do sacrifice in their own proper persons, to the household gods; the district gods; the spirits of rivers and of hills; and the gods of the fire, and the winds and the rain, and the thunder and the earth, and the heavens and the polar star. They wor ship too the image of Confucius, who never professed to be more than a man, and who even declined the title of Sage, and who never taught the separate existence of the human soul; which doctrine indeed his disciples deny. These Philosophists often laugh at the religionists of their own country, but still observe the rites and superstitions, and worship the idols of the other sects, as well as their own. The governors of provinces, and local magistrates, often visit


the Budha temples, and fall prostrate before the cross-legged image of woolly-headed Budha; and subscribe largely for the support of the priests, the repair of the temples, the making of new gods, and the cleaning and ornamenting of old ones. And his Tartar majesty of China frequently confers new titles and honours on the gods of the land. Oh how absurd! Man creates and dignifies the gods that he worships! Alas! my brethren, how long shall the millions of eastern Asia continue to inherit lies, vanities, and things wherein there is no profit? When shall they come from the ends of the earth, as the prophet speaks, and acknowledge their folly, and abandon their idols! I would remark finally, in this part of my discourse, that the priests of China do not instruct the people either in the principles of morality, or the rites of their religion, either in private or in public; and there is no social worship, nor any day of rest, on which to assemble at the temples. Some regard is paid to the new and full moon, after the manner of the Jews; but in China there is no Sabbath. The priests in companies worship the idols morning and evening, and recite prayers to them, and chant incantations, and light up candles, and burn incense. They are also employed to recite prayers for the sick, and say masses for the dead; and some of them, belonging to the sect of Laou-keun, attend funerals. In families, in shops, and in boats, where people live, any person that may have leisure, old man or boy, a mother or her daughters, light the matches of incense morning and evening, and place them before the idol, after having made three bows, holding the matches ignited in their hands, joined and held up before the face. Women are discouraged by the Moralists of China from going to the temples, and are told to worship their parents at home, for they are the best gods. When children, or a husband, or a parent, is sick, and death is apprehended, they depute persons to go round to the various idol temples, to intercede with all the gods and goddesses for them; and sometimes devote their children, if they should recover, to the service of the gods, and consequently to perpetual celibacy, as probably Jephthah did his daughter. Others dedicate to the Budha

temples a fish or a fowl, or a swine, and afford the means of sustenance till the creature shall die a natural death; it being thought highly meritorious not to destroy animal life.

These, and many other things that I might state to you, all shew the lamentable ignorance of that ancient, populous, civilized, and worldly-wise nation, concerning God and true religion.

Yet the Chinese, like all the philosophists and moralists of antichristian caste, go about to establish their own righteousness, and think their virtues will counterbalance their vices. This, indeed, is a feature in which all false religions, and all corruptions of the true religion agree. Impious, rebellious man, all round the world, labours to justify, or to excuse his impiety and rebellion; and not only so, but to put in a claim to merit, on account of his virtues, or of the hardships he has endured, under the government of the ruling powers in nature. I remember the vain boast of an old rich Chinese, who was a notorious liar and debauchee all his life, that on account of his good deeds, some pecuniary charities, the gods must take care of him.

Oh how different is the gospel of Christ from all the self-righteous machinations of philosophers and superstition! and oh, my brethren, what a revolution takes place in the human mind, when it renounces its own imaginary righteousness, and receives with gratitude the righteousness which is of God by faith in Jesus Christ! And this necessary revolution or conversion, not general education; not science, proudly so called; not civilization-can ever effect. But Bible education, revealed religion, the gospel of Jesus Christ, accompanied by the influences of the Holy Spirit, can effect it. And to communicate this gospel; and to pray for these influences, constitute one of the highest duties of every human creature reconciled to God.

But although there be in man a self-righteous, self-justifying spirit, the very endeavour to justify himself shews that there are inward misgivings, and a consciousness of sin and guilt, and some apprehensions and fears. The numerous superstitions whether frivolous or cruel, that pre

vail in the heathen world reveal the existence of the same conviction.

The passing observer in distant lands, who witnesses the laughing countenances of the young and thoughtless, often pronounces the people happy; and men disaffected to Christian Missions thence argue that such efforts are totally uncalled for But the human heart under convictions of sin, does not usually reveal its anxieties to the giddy throng in busy active life: in yonder lands, as well as in our own, in the season of distress, of sickness, and of approaching or anticipated death, conscience often does its duty strictly, and in a way that alarms the sinner. Hence the rich give of their wealth, and the poor devote their children to idol temples: and the priests are hired to recite prayers and incantations to the dumb idols; and the repetition of masses for the souls of the dead, is procured by surviving relatives. And wardrobes of rich clothing are consumed by fire to be passed into Hades for the use of the deceased there. Even the proud atheistical disciples of Confucius, who in the time of prosperity laugh at the idea of a future state of existence, often have recourse to the very superstitions they despised, to buoy up their sinking spirits, when the king of terrors makes his approach.

We know from heaven that man is guilty; and we know from universal experience that there are periods of life when he feels himself wretched; therefore he requires mercy to pardon, and grace to help, and that mercy and grace, the knowledge of Christ alone can convey. For Messiah was anointed to preach good tidings to the meek; he was sent to bind up the broken hearted; to proclaim liberty to the captives and the opening of the prison to them that were bound. The knowledge of Christ is necessary; and the knowledge of Christ is fitted to relieve the wants, and to remove the miseries of man.

In the third place, then, these two questions arise, What are the means to be employed? And who are the persons, on whom the obligation rests, to communicate this knowledge to mankind.

That means are to be employed, I am now taking for

« ForrigeFortsæt »