1265-1321 Dante Alighieri.

Evidences of Christianity, in their external, or historical, division ... online

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likeness of the worst communities of ancient heathenism.

We ask, what has become of all these deep rooted defor-
mities ? Look around upon the countries over which the
influence of Christianity has been exerted; those especially
where the religion of Jesus has been enjoyed in the greatest
j»urity, and cultivated with the truest devotion. Where are
the remains of the abominations we have described ! Crime
jemains indeed; but only in hidden dens. It shuns the
1 ight. Laws do not afford it countenance. Public sentiment
ilrives it into concealment. What would the feeling of soci-
(ity now say to a show of gladiators ; to the legalized expo-
sure of infants by the hands of mothers ; to the public, deU-
l»erate murder of worn out slaves; to the justification of
suicide, and theft, and lying, and assassination, and the ac-
knowledged practice of the most odious sensuality, by those
who are looked up to as the moral teachers and examples of
society? How would idolatry, with all its cruelties and
obscenities; its profligate deities; its human sacrifices; its
hidden mysteries of iniquity ; and its public ritual of vice,
affect the public mind, were its temples, and images, and
lascivious ceremonies now set up in our cities ? It is npt
enough to say that in countries where all these abominations
once rioted without restraint and in full sympathy with the
public taste, they have long since been driven away with
abhorrence. Positive blessings, in every form and for every
class of society, have risen up in their place. A measure of
virtue which would have singled out an ancient philosopher
as a wonderful exception to the rest of the world, is absolutely
necessary at present to a character of ordinary decency.
Benevolence, such as was not known in Greece or Rome, and
had it appeared, would not have been comprehended, is now
a matter of common, daily intercourse between man and
man. An incalculable improvement has been effected in all
departments of human affairs, from the administration of
national government down to the most retired relations of


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the fiunily circle. What rulers would have been remarkable
once for not doings the people would now expel them for
attempting. A spirit of equity, moderation, and respect for
the interests and happiness of the community, is required in
the governments of countries under the influence of Chris-
tianity, which was hardly conceived of by the nations of
antiquity, and, if it ever appeared, was a marvellous excep-
tion to general rule. Laws, regenerated in their principles,
are enacted in wisdom, and executed with a faithfulness
unknown to the heathen. Instead of the despotic harshness
with which a father was once permitted to rule his children
and his wife, as his tools and slaves ; universal sentiment
demands it, as necessary even to decency, that he shall be
kind to them as his own flesh, and as the rightful sharers in
all his comforts. Women have been elevated from the rank
of beasts of burden, to an equal participation in all the
refinements and blessings of society. The condition of the
dependant classes of the community has been raised firom
tliat of contempt, and oppression, and utter ignorance, to a
level, in point of natural ri^t, with all; while education
shines upon their dwelUfigs, and religion seeks their souls, as
worthy of all sacrifices which christian benevolence can
make foe their salvation.

Efibrts to provide for the sick, the destitute, the orphan,
the widow, were imknown among the ancients. Rome,
Athens, Corinth, contained no hospitals, no asylums, no pub-
Uc charities, no syTstems of gratuitous education. Such deeds
of benevolence were impossible among a people who were
accustomed to look upon all forms of human suffering with
indifference, and to derive enthusiastic amusement from their
promotion. In vgin are the writings of their moralists
examined for exhortations to any thing like an active con-
cern for the poor or the ignorant. An orphan child was no
object of public compassion in countries where orphans were
daily and deliberately made, and left to perish by cold blooded
abandonment on the part of their parents.

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* But what new sympathies sprang up immediately where
the gospel prevailed ! It was made the duty of the whole
christian conmiunity to provide for the stranger, the poor,
the sick, the aged, the widow, and the orphan. For this one
object, public contributions, at the time of divine servioe,
were established, and private donations were multiplied.
How much such benevolence was insisted on, may be judged
from a passage of Tertullian, where, speaking of the impedi-
ments which a christian woman would encounter by mar-
riage with a heathen, he says : " What heathen will suflFer
his wife, in visiting the brethren to go from street to street,
into strangers', and even into the most miserable cottages?
Who will suffer them to steal into prisons, to kiss the chains
of martyrs ? If a stranger-brother comes, what reception
will he find in a strangers house? If she has alms to bestow,
the safe and the cellar are closed to her."

What the gospel effected, in promoting benevolence, and
trampling down all the obstacles of selfishness and fear,
when good was hardly to be done but at the cost of life, may
be seen from the following representation of Dionysius, bishop
of Alexandria, who had an opportunity of observing the
contrast between heathens and Christians, when a terrible
pestilence was raging in that city. " That pestilence appeared
to the heathen as the most dreadful of all things, as that
which left them no hope ; not so, however, did it seem 16
us, but only a peculiar and practical trial. The greater part
of our people, in the abundance of their brotheriy love, did
not spare themselves ; and mutually attending to each other,
they would visit the sick without fear, and ministering to
them for the sake of Christ, they would cheerfully give up
their life with them. Many died, after their care had restored
others from the disease to health. The best among our
brethren, some priests and deacons, and some who were cele-
brated among the laity, died in this manner, and such a
death, the fruit of great piety and strong faith, is hardly infe-
rior to martyrdom. Many who look the bodies of their


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christian brethren into their hands qjid bosoms, closed ttieir
mouth and eyes, and buried them with every attention, soon
followed them in death. But with the heathen, matters stood
quite diflferently; at the first symptom of sickness, they drove
a man firom their society ; they tore themselves away firom
their dearest connexions ; they threw the half dead into the
streets, and left the dead unburied ; endeavouring by all the
means in their power to escape contagion, which, notwith-
standing all their contrivances, it was very difficult for them
to accomplish."

" In the same manner," writes Neander, from whose church
history the above is taken, " the Christians of Carthage let
the light of their love and christian conduct shine before the
heathen in a pestilence which visited North Africa a little
before, in the reign of Grallus. The heathen, out of cowardice^
left the sick and the dying; the streets were full of corpses,
which no man dared to bury ; and avarice was the only
passion which mastered the fear of death ; for wicked men
endeavoured to make a gain out of the misfortunes of their
' neighbours ; and the heathen accused the Christians of being
the cause of this calamity, as enemies of the gods, instead
of being brought by it to the consciousness of their own guilt
and corruption. But Cyprian required of his church that
they should behold, in this desolating pestilence, a trial of
their dispositions. * How necessary is it, my dearest breth-
ren,' he says to them, 'that this pestilence, which appears to
bring horror and destruction, should prove the consciences
of men ! It will determine whether the healthy will take
care of ttie sick, whether relations bear tender love one to
another, and whether masters care for their sick servants.'
That the Christians should show a spirit of mutual love
among themselves, was not sufficient to satisfy a bishop who
formed his notions after the model of the great Shepherd.
He therefore called his church together, and addressed them '
thus: 'If Wb do good only to our own people, we do no more
than publicans and heathens. But if we are the children

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of God, who makes his sun shine and his rm to descend
upon the just and the unjust ; who sheds a^broad his bless-
ings, not on his own alone, but eye© upon those whose
thoughts are far from him ; we must show this by our
actions, endeavouring to become perfect as our Fa&er in
heaven is perfect, and blessing those who curse, and doing
good to those who persecute us.^ Encouraged by this pa-
ternal admonition, the members of the church addressed
themselves to the work ; the ridi contributing money, and
the poor their labour ; so that in a short time the st|reets were
cleared of the corpses who filled them, and the cky saved
from the dangers of a universal pestilence."*

That the spirit of primitive Christians is still the charac-
teristic spirit of Christianity, in regard to all works of charity,
may easily be seen. Go wh^re the gos^I has attained the
greatest supremacy, and behold how ^every fiM'm of human
misery is met by the self denying diligmce, and comforted by
the munificence, of the benevolent. What conceivable method
of removing distress, of prev^ting vice, andxUsseminating
happiness, has not been put in operati(H[i ? The whole Homan '
empire had not one benevoleat institution. The single city
of London counts h^ three hundred i And why is so little
said or thought of them, except that the public mind has be-
come so accustomed to the noblest effo^ of benevolence, that
they are now regarded almost as matters of course — the
natural consequence of prevaiUng principles of broth^ly
kindness and charity ?

It is not my design to exhibit any thing like a fiill length
portrait of the contrast between the ^vilization of modem,
and that of ancient nations. It is se^n in all the relations of
life ; in the whole febric of society, from the government of
the family, to that of the state ; from th^ tender cares of the
cradle and the mother to the wide eonqems of communities
- and rulers. Every thing has felt the change. Though not
perfect, it is immense. Much remains to be done, but mighty

» Rosft'tt trarkslation of Nf>ander's Ch. Hist

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tECTURE X. 299

impfovexnents have been effected. Were the whole work
tindone •. should the sun, which now enlightens the moral
world, be commanded to go back, and suffer the classic
paganism of Greece and Rome to resume its sway ; every
joint in the mechanism of society would groan with pain ;
every comer in the household of civilized beings would be
filled with darkness ; the transition from the arts and litera-
ture of England to those of Hottentots or New Zealanders,
would not be greater than such a change from the moral
elevation of the present age, to the higjiest refinements of the
purest nations of antiquity.

Such is the fact. It remains to be accounted for. What
produced this change ? The religion of ancient heathens
pleads " 7wt guilty^ to the charge. It had no reference to
morals. The vilest crimes and the highest repute for piety
were perfectly consistent with each other, among heathens
of the Augustan age. It was no part of the business of their
priests to teach men virtue. No religion but that of the
Bible ever possessed or aimed at the power of reformation.
Equally clear are the literature, and philosophy, and arts of
antiquity from the imputation of this mighty revolution.
Never did they prevail so extensively among the heathen, as
in the first century of Christianity ; and never were they ac-
companied with such moral degradation. Philosophy had
as little disposition, as ability to reform. Whatever light it
may have possessed, it monopolized ; holding its truth in un-
righteousness, and studiously conforming its practice to the
worst abominations. " Cicero declares that the ancient phi-
losophers never reformed either thetnselves or their disciples ;
and that he knew not a single instance in which either the
teacher or the disciple was made virtuous by their principles."*

♦ Dwight on Infidel Philosophy.

" In their writings and conversation, the philosophers of antiquity asserted
the independent dignity of reason ; but they resigned their actions to the com-
mands of law and custom. Viewing with a smile of pity and indulgence the
various errors of the vulgar, they diligently practised the ceremonies of tlieir
'athers, devoutly frequented the temples of the gods; and, sometimes conde-

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But it may be supposed that, without any other cause
than its own natural fluctuation, the moral condition of
ancient nations may have taken a change, like the tides of
the ocean, and begun to rise from the mere fact of being re-
duced to so low an ebb. Answer this by the present state of
those nations that continued under the native influence of
paganism. In which of them was such a thing ever known,
as a reformation of public morals '/ Their unvaried history,
from the days of Moses to the present, settles the matter, that
heathenism has no power, but of progressive corruption ;
and, left to itself, can*only reduce its votaries into deeper
and deeper debasement. Then, if the vast improvement in
question is neither the consequence of the religion, nor the
philosophy, nor the arts, nor the literature, nor of any
natural reaction in the moral state of the ancient heathen ; to
what other cause must it be assigned ? History has but one
answer. Reason has but one answer. Christianity alone ;
single-handed, persecuted Christianity, by the agency of
twelve obscure Jews, began the wonderful change, and under
the favour of God, has accomplished its every step of ad-
vancement. Till such a thing as the religion of Christ ap-
peared in the world, a reformation of heathen society was
never dreamed of. Till Christians appeared among the
Gentiles, none had ever adventured, none were ever disposed,
to labour for the improvement of mankind. Christian writers
were the first that dared to drag the abominations of classic
antiquity to light, and brand them with the condemnation
of truth and righteousness. The first christian emperor

scending to act a part on the theatre of superstition, they concealed the senti-
ments of an Atheist under the sacerdotal robes. It was indifferent to them
what shape the folly of the multitude might choose to assume; and they ap-
proached, with the same inward contempt and the same external reverence,
the altars of the Lybian, the Olympian, or the Capitoline Jupiter." — Otbhonh
History i i. 34.

A sorry tribute, by a philosopher, to the benevolence and honesty of his
ancient brethren. Paul would have drawn their picture with a darker pencil
still. Paul's Master would have n amed them "hypocrites" "whitcd aepulchresy


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issued the first prohibition of inhuman practices and amuse-
ments, which many centuries had sanctioned. Till the
gospel set up its churches and gathered its discipl^, the
gentile world had never seen such a spectacle as that of a
society united by bands of love; shining in the beauty of
holiness ; animated with zeal to do good at the expense of
self-denial and sacrifice.

How exclusively the happy effects of which we have been
speaking are the fruit of Christianity, is evident from the fact
that, when you take up a map of the world and mark out
the boundaries of Christendom, you mark also the boundaries
of all civilization and refinement ; that as you approach the
regions where the Bible is best known and most obeyed, you
perceive a rapid increase of all the virtues, and charities, and
blessings of which the society of man is capable ; that the
highest elevation of the human character is where Chris-
tianity reigns in her purest form, and the blackest page in
the history of Christendom, the page most polluted with vice,
and red with cruelty and murder, is the record of the people
who trampled down the institutions of the gospel, decreed the
living God out of existence, and attempted to raise the deities
of ancient paganism from the dead.* That many individuals
who deny the truth, and profess to be free from the influence
of Christianity, are decent meii and far removed from the
condition of the heathen in point of moral precept, as well
as practice, is no evidence against our position. The light
of Christianity is all about them, and they cannot help seeing
by its aid. They have learned christian truth firom their
childhood, smd it cannot be unlearned. Do what they may,
they cannot think or act without its influence. They may
boast the sufficiency of their own reason, but they can no
more exercise their reason without the aid of revelation, than
tliey can breathe the air of spring without the fragrance of
its flowers. " On all questions of morality and religion, the
streams of thought have flowed through channels enriched
with a celestial ore, whence they have derived the tincture

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to which they are indebted for their rarest and most salutary
quaUties."* What a community of deists would be without
Christianity, can only be known by remembering what deists
were before Christianity came into the world, and what they
became, when in France they supposed they had almost ban-
ished her from the earth.

How remarkable are the confessions of infidels to the
excellent fruit and indispensable influence of the gospel !
Bolingbroke acknowledges, " that Constantine acted the part
of a sound politician in protecting Christianity, as it tended
to give firmness and solidity to his empire, softened the fero-
city of the army, and reformed the licentiousness of the
provinces, and by infusing a spirit of moderation and sub-
mission to government, tended to extinguish those principles
of avarice and ambition, injustice and violence, by which
so many factions were formed.^ "No religion," says the
same opposer of Christianity, " ever appeared in the world
whose natural tendency was so much directed to promote the
peace and happiness of mankind. It makes right reason a
law in every possible definition of the word. And therefore,
even supposing it to have been purely a human invention, it
had been the most amiable and the most usefiil invention
that was ever imposed on mankind for their good." Thus
even Rousseau : " If all were perfect Christians, individuals
would do their duty ; the people would be obedient to the
laws ; the magistrates incorrupt ; and there would be neither
vanity nor luxury in such a state." Such are the confessions
of many other writers of the same class. And yet these
men would run the ploughshare through the foundations of
the church of Christ, so that one stone should not be left upon
another. So much for the consistency, the virtue, and dis-
interested benevolence of infidelity ; or rather so much for
the contradiction between its head and its. heart, its convic-
tions and its vices.

I know of nothing, in the way of fact, more strikingly

♦ Robert Hall.

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illustrative of the Intimate fruits of Christianity ; more com-
pletely in proof that all the social and moral blessings which
civilized nations at present enjoy, are to be ascribed to her
influence; and that what she once was, as a tree of life to the
nations, she is now, and ever will be ; than the history of the
missions among the heathen, which protestant Christians are
now sustaining. Here we have experiments of her power
in all climates, over all habits and dispositions, and with all
classes of mind. She has gone in among the ice-bound in-
habitants of Greenland, whose intellect was as slow, and
sleepy, and creeping, as the seals they lived on ; and whose
hearts were as barren and cold as their perpetual snows.
She has entered among the inhabitants of the southern
extreme of Africa, the Hottentots, the very lowest gradation
of human nature, whose souls were supposed to be as incapa-
ble of enlightening and enlargement as the instincts of the
vermin that covered them. She has tried her powers among
the ferocious tribes of American Indians ; upon warriors
nourished with blood, and breathing a spirit of slaughter
which no sufferings nor dangers could ever tame. She has
lifted up her voice in the islands of the Pacific, among sav-
ages uniting with the most inhuman idolatry, the most beastly
vices and unnatural cruelties ; and from all this heteroge-
neous display of unshapen depravity, by the mere influence
of her truth and love, she has led forth a multitude of disci-
ples for the Lord Jesus, in whom are found precisely the
same distinctive features of meekness, humility, love, and
holiness. Look at the Sandwich, or the Society Islands !
Within our own times were they universally pagan, having
no altars but those of daemons; no law but that of violence ;
no morals but those of unbridled passion. Theft was the
most national art. Polygamy ; crimes against nature ; the
murder of prisoners taken in war ; the destruction of infants
and the sacrificing of humaYi victims, prevailed throughout
their population. What is the change I Where are now
their idols? In tho muscnms of onr missionary societies, as

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trophies of the victories of the cross ; or cast " to the moles
and the bats" by those who once adored than. The phui
and mould of society have been recast. Laws, wisdy
enacted and well admistered, keep the peace and promote
improvements. Crimes of all kinds are obliged to cease or
go into concealment. Marriage has given parents new aflSsc*
tion for their children, and their children new ties among
each other. Benevolence, unknown before, has awakened a
desire to go about doing good. The Sabbath is reverenced
and widely kept for rest and worship. The arts of peace are
cultivated where formerly the only art desired was that of
war. The march of civilization is visible in all domestic
comforts and private affairs; in agriculture, commerce, build-
ings, cleanliness, dress, manners, and government. Schools
are spread through the islands, and education is 'eagerly
sought by a large portion of the people of all ages and classes.
Such are the fruits of Christianity in our day. Nothing else
could have produced such fruits. Just after infidelity had
given the world a full length portrait, in the French revolu-
tion, of her power to tear down, and tear in pieces, and drown
in blood, whatever is lovely and of good report ; then Chris-
tianity set out, on the opposite side of the world, to furnish
a striking contrast, in the missions of the Pacific, of her
benign influence, to exterminate whatever is odious and

* It is well known to the author that traTellen and voyagers not unfre-
quently bring back reports of the effects of missionary labours in the regions
they have visited, which stagger the minds of many sincere friends of foreign
missions. The accounts of what those honoured and devoted servants of
Christ, called missionaries, are doing, and of the advances which the gospd
is making under their influence, may all be true; much more than Uiey relate
may be trae; and yet it is very conceivable, yea, natural, that such men as
6uroMlnary visiters of foreign lands should return from those regions, having
Aether seen nor heard any thing of the matter. Suppose a missionary were
accomplishing, with his schools and his preaching, among a tribe of Indians
in the centre of the state of New York, about as much as is reported of the
American labourers in the island of Ceylon ; how long might an intelligent
traveller, with no interest in religion, no relish for its intelligence, no love for

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Not only has the religion of the gospel pi educed such
fruits, but the experiment of eighteen hundred years is per-
fect proof, that in proportion as it shall ever be possessed in

the society of its disciples, no knowledge of its journals — a man of fashion
and gayety, mingling only with the literary and worldly-minded; how long
might he reside in the fashionable circles of the city of New York, and sail

Online Library1265-1321 Dante AlighieriEvidences of Christianity, in their external, or historical, division ... → online text (page 26 of 36)