Page images

pre-eminence to the guilty horrors of the slavetrade—we can imagine a very slender comprehension among them, of the unlawfulness of their respective vocations. And this epidemic peculiarity, extending to whole societies of men, is greatly enhanced by the sympathy of a common feeling and a common interest in the midst of them—so as to account for those aberrations from a universal morality, by which whole countries and whole ages of the world have been characterized. It is thus that in those tribes and nations which have to maintain a continued struggle for their existence, revenge and rapacity are canonized as virtues—the obligations of a general equity being lost and overborne, in the obligations of a contracted patriotism. Whether we look to the cruelties of Indian warfare, or to the guilty conquests of Rome, we find, not that the obligations of an unchangeable morality have ever been formally renounced, but that they have been lost sight of and forgotten for centuries together, in the dazzling images of a nation's glory and a nation's weal. Apart from such influences as these—apart from the darkening and disturbing forces that we have now specified—we could obtain the same assent to the same lessons of piety and truth and justice and universal philanthropy all the world over.

But the question is, who, in the strength and prevalence of a wide-spread delusion, who is to originate these lessons? We can understand how, should these forces be suspended-how, when the spirit of a man, arrested and solemnized and recalled for a season from those influences which have so long perverted and enthralled it by


a voice from without-how it should respond to the voice; and the light of conscience, thus resuscitated and restored, should meet and be in harmony with the external light that has awakened it. But still the question recurs, who lifted that voice at the first; and whence, or in what quarter, did the light arise ? Both in the Islands of the South Sea, and in the North American wilderness-large portions of the territory have been reclaimed; and the men formerly of savage life, whose consciences had lain in a state of dormancy and delusion from time immemorial, are now awake to the pure morality of the Gospel—not however in virtue of a light that sprung up among themselves, but of a light brought to them by missionaries from afar. Thus it is, we historically know, that the local darkness in every particular country of the world has been dissipated—by a visitation from abroad, by a movement from some region of light to this region of barbarism. This gives a sort of experimental solution to the question—whence did light break in upon the world at the first; or at the period of its universal darkness, when that pure and perfect system of morality, the introduction of which requires to be accounted for, was nowhere to be found_how and from what quarter, must it not have been from beyond the world, that the invasion was first made ?* 66 When darkness covered the earth and gross darkness the people, the Lord,” it is said, “shall arise upon thee, and his glory shall be seen upon thee.”

* The first origin of civilization in the world is a controversy charged with principle. If history, which it seems to do, countenance or confirm the assertion that it never arose spontaneously in any nation—this points strongly to the conclusion of a primary revelation.

- When the people which sat in darkness saw great light, when on them which sat in the region and shadow of death the light shone”–did it spring up from the earth itself, or was it a supernal light which shone over them? Might it not have been a super-human light, although it met with a reflection in human bosoms ? Might it not have been a super-human voice that first gave utterance to those lessons of highest virtue, although it called forth a response and an echo from the consciences of men ?

6. It might help us to pronounce on this question all the more confidently, if we look to the state of the Jews at the time of our Saviour-to their exclusive, their inveterately national principle, and contrast it with the more generous and expansive principle of our own Christianity—the one being obviously a system for a nation, the other as obviously a system for the species. Who, it may be repeated, could be the first author of such an enlargement ? It follows not from

It follows not from any distinction of ours between the ethics and the objects of revelation, that, however competent for humanity to own the lesson, it was therefore competent for humanity to have framed it-and, more especially, cumbered, as the universal mind of society then was, by the weight of those prejudices which it was called upon to renounce. The light which appears in the very midst of this darkness, could not, we apprehend, have been originated there. In the history of the apostles themselves, we recognize the slowness and the extreme difficulty of its reception, by a merely Jewish understanding-which, though at length brought to acquiesce in the system, could never have devised it.

In the very ature of that system, and more especially when taken in connexion with the circumstances in which it arose, we have an internal evidence for the divinity of its origin. To teach that which is not only repugnant to the taste, but at variance with all the hereditary and long established notions of society—to have germinated, in the heart of a dark and narrow region, a system of morality, that conflicted at the time with all which was immediately around it, but now receives the homage of every enlightened and well-exercised spirit in Christendom—such a phenomenon closely approximates to a miracle, or rather possesses all the characters of an event as extraordinary. If to do that which is beyond human strength be a miracle of power, and to prophesy that which is beyond human foresight be a miracle of knowledge —then for a carpenter of Galilee to have taught, or for fishermen of Galilee to have promulgated that which was beyond human discovery, and surely beyond all the means and likelihoods of a discovery by them, this may well be termed a miracle of science or a miracle of sentiment.

7. This conclusion is greatly strengthened, when we attend in detail to the moralities of the Gospel-and, more especially, to those of its original moralities which may be regarded in the light of a protest against, not merely the universal practice, but till then the universal sense and feelings of mankind. Its prescribed love of enemies—its law

of universal purity, extending to the imaginations of the heart as well as to the overt acts of the history—its moral estimation of the superiority which lies in the desires and purposes of the inner, over the deeds and observations of the outer man —its equal and diffusive benevolence, without the abjuration at the same time of those relative sympathies which bind together the members of the same family—its high standard of charity, the love of one's neighbour as one's self; and withal, the extension of this neighbourhood so as to embrace the men of other climes and other countries than our own, embracing all in fact as we have the opportunity—its respect for rank and yet the honour in which it requires us to hold all men, so as to maintain unbroken the distinctions of civil life while it dignifies and exalts the very humblest of the species--the equal estimation in which it holds rich and poor on the high scale of immortality, and yet the homage which it pays to nobility and office, giving to this world's authority all its prerogatives while reserving for the objects and interests of another world all their immeasurable value_its self-denial—its profound humility and self-abasement—its renunciation of pleasure and ambition and vanity—its walk of faith rather than of sightits just comparison of the magnitude of time with that of eternity-above all, its entire subordination to God whom it teaches us supremely to love and implicitly to obey – These are the leading characteristics of the morality of the Gospel, new to the world at the time of its publication, however fitted to recommend itself to the moral nature, not

« PreviousContinue »