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number of such conscientious Christians is rare indeed:—
Apparent rari nantes in gurgite vasto.
There does not, however, exist a single instance, in which the government of any nation has forgone political advantages, for the sake of observing the precepts of the gospel. Even the late King of Britain, who discharged with exemplary virtue, the duties of a parent, a husband, and a monarch, and entertained such laudable scruples about signing deathwarrants, violated the positive command,"Thou shalt not kill," in wider extent than any of his predecessors. If the Sceptic could mention any nation or set of men, who rigidly practised the precepts of Christ, and were wicked and miserable, then indeed it would be perfectly fair to conclude, that Christianity was not adapted to the condition of mankind. But as far as the experiment has been tried, the results have proved the falsity of the infidel assertion. That small section of the community, who, under the appellation of Quakers, not only profess to believe in, but actually practise, the injunctions of the Saviour, constitute the most happy and most respectable portion of the public. For a very considerable space of time, not a single member of the Society of Friends has been convicted of a civil misdemeanour, and we are not aware of a single instance, in which a criminal charge has ever been substantiated. This fact speaks volumes. .
It appears then, uncandidto argue, that the precepts of the gospel are too good for the wOrld, and by this refinement in sophistry, toi conclude, that revelation is untrue, because Christians are not more virtuous than the Pagans of antiquity. It would be more just to say that the people are to blame, who merely profess a belief which they do not exemplify in: their conduct, than to attribute the . want- of morality to the impossibility of acting up to the spirit of the gospel. The Quakers are living proofs of what may be effected by a determined struggle of reason over appetite; and we shall now proceed to show, no nation ever yetpractised Christianity to the extent which the author of it has enjoined. And if we succeed in establishing that fact by historical evidence, we shall be justified in inferring, that, until the experiment has been tried on a large scale, with as much sincerity as it has been by the Society of Friends, it cannot be maintained that Christianity is badly adapted to the fallen and sinful nature of frail humanity. On the contrary, it may be urged, that the abuse of the Gospel has caused vice and immorality among men, and not that men are vicious and immoral, because they are formed in such a fashion as to be unable to practice its precepts.
It has been urged against the religion of Mohammed, that it was propagated by the sword, while Christianity is said to have made its way by the mild and unassisted influence of persuasion. This distinction is triumphantly •insisted on by the true sons of the Church; yet, strange as the inconsistency may appear, the same individuals, who abuse the teachers of the Koran for intolerance, are the most active encouragers of modern prosecutions. •But however anxiously the zealous, but injudicious piety .of ecclesiastical writers, may induce them to disguise or pervert the truth, it cannot be denied that the religion of Jesus met with very little encouragement before the conversion of Constantine, which happened three hundred years after the first preaching of the gospel. During this interval, the Christians were regarded by the pagan philosophers as fanatical enthusiasts ; but the universal toleration of polytheism was not withheld from the worshippers of the crucified Nazarene. It is true that they suffered persecution under the Emperors; but it must also be confessed, that the sufferings they endured have been grossly exaggerated, nor can they in point ot intensity or duration, be compared with the torturings
which, in later times, the Christians have inflicted on one another. When Constantine renounced the religion of his ancestors, he employed the temporal force of his despotism to secure the triumph of his new creed. The royal convert abrogated the Edict of Milan, which permitted to every Roman citizen the privilege of choosing his own religion. He imitated the example of Augustus, in uniting in his own person the spiritual and temporal dignities, and seems to have been as well aware of the advantages to be derived from the union of the regal and pontifical authority, as that British Monarch, who used to repeat as a favourite maxim, "No Bishop, No King." If the character of Constantine is judged by the panegyrics of the clergy, a very erroneous estimate will be formed of his real merit. Whether his abjuration of paganism be ascribed to bigotry, ambition, or conscientious feelings, it cannot be forgotten, in an impartial estimate of his virtues, that his hands were stained with the blood of his own chlid, and surely it is not uncharitable to presume, that the man who could violate without remorse the most endearing ties of nature, was but imperfectly acquainted with the spirit of his new religion. Neither will it excite surprise that the murder of his son was followed by the persecution of his subjects. "After a preamble filled with
passion and reproach, Constantine absolutely prohibits the assemblies of the heretics, and confiscates their property either to the use of the state, or of the Catholic Church. The sects against whom the imperial severity was directed, appear to have been the adherents of Paul of Samosata; the Montanists of Phrygia, who maintained an enthusiastic succession of prophecy; the Novatians, who sternly rejected the temporal efficacy of repentance; the Marcionites and Valentinians, under whose leading banners the various gnostics of Asia and Egypt had insensibly rallied: and perhaps the Manichaeans, who had recently imported from Persia a more artful composition of Oriental and Christian theology. The design of extirpating the name, or at least of restraining the progress of these odious heretics, was prosecuted with rigour and effect. Some of the penal regulations were copied from the edicts of Dioclesian; and this method of conversion was applauded by the same Bishops, who had felt the hand of oppression, and pleaded the cause of humanity." *f
* This extract is sufficient to remove that vulgar error, which industriously, teaches that Christianity has been propagated solely by the unassisted influence of persuasion; and the philosopher will not fail to observe the similarity of
t Gibbon's Hist. Vol. 3, p. 305, 8vo edition.