« PreviousContinue »
tion, would not, I think, have flourished, if they could have been exercised at all. Men would have addicted themselves to contemplative and afcetic lives, inftead of lives of business and of useful induftry. We obferve that St. Paul found it neceffary, frequently to recall his converts to the ordinary labours and domeftic duties of their condition; and to give them, in his own example, a leffon of contented application to their worldly employments.
By the manner in which the religion is now proposed, a great portion of the human species is enabled, and of these, multitudes of every generation are induced, to feek and to effectuate their falvation through the medium of Chriftianity, without interruption of the profperity or of the regular course of human affairs.
The fuppofed Effects of Christianity.
HAT a religion, which, under every form in which it is taught, holds forth the final reward of virtue, and punishment of vice, and propofes thofe diftinctions of virtue and vice, which the wifeft and moft cultivated part of mankind confefs to be just, should not be believed, is very poffible; but that, fo far as it is believed, it should not produce any good, but rather a bad effect upon public happiness, is a propofition, which it requires very ftrong evidence to render credible. Yet many have been found to contend for this paradox, and very confident appeals have been made to history, and to obfervation, for the truth of it,
In the conclufions, however, which these writers draw, from what they call experiBb 4
ence, two fources, I think, of mistake, may be perceived.
One is, that they look for the influence of religion in the wrong place.
The other, that they charge Christianity with many confequences, for which it is not refponsible.
1. The influence of religion is not to be fought for in the councils of princes, in the debates or refolutions of popular affemblies, in the conduct of governments towards their fubjects, or of states and fovereigns towards one another; of conquerors at the head of their armies, or of parties intriguing for power at home (topics which alone almost occupy the attention, and fill the pages af history); but must be perceived, if perceived at all, in the filent courfe of private and dos meftic life. Nay more; even there its influence may not be very obvious to obfervation. If it check, in fome degree, per fonal diffolutenefs, if it beget a general pro bity
bity in the transaction of business, if it produce foft and humane manners in the mafs of the community, and occafional exertions of laborious or expenfive benevolence in a few individuals, it is all the effect which can offer itself to external notice. The king
dom of heaven is within us. That which is the fubftance of the religion, its hopes and confolations, its intermixture with the thoughts by day and by night, the devotion of the heart, the control of appetite, the fteady direction of the will to the commands of God, is neceffarily invifible. Yet upon thefe depend the virtue and the happiness of millions. This caufe renders the reprefentations of hiftory, with refpect to religion, defective and fallacious, in a greater degree than they are upon any other fubject. Re gion operates moft upon thofe of whom history knows the leaft; upon fathers and mothers in their families, upon men servants and maid fervants, upon the orderly tradef man, the quiet villager, the manufacturer at his loom, the hufbandman in his fields. Amongst fuch its influence collectively may be
be of ineftimable value, yet its effects in the mean time little, upon those who figure upon the stage of the world. They may know nothing of it; they may believe nothing of it; they may be actuated by motives more impetuous than thofe which religion is able to excite. It cannot, therefore, be thought ftrange, that this influence should elude the grafp and touch of public history; for what is public hiftory, but a regifter of the fucceffes and disappointments, the vices, the follies, and the quarrels, of those who engage in contentions for power?
I will add, that much of this influence may be felt in times of public distress, and little of it in times of public wealth and security. This also increases the uncertainty of any opinions that we draw from historical reprefentations. The influence of Chriftianity is commenfurate with no effect's which history ftates. We do not pretend, that it has any fuch neceffary and irresistible power over the affairs of nations, as to furmount the force of other caufes.