Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

policy. The former may be compared to a fire-brand, whic!), glaring majestically amid the gloom of ages, serves but to render the surrounding darkness more profound ; while the latter may be likened to the first beams of the rising sun, which bids fair to illumine the whole extent of the horizon, and diffuse happiness and prosperity over the earth.

Thus much on the meanness and servility attendant on the precepts of Jesus ; but it appears that they are not more

66 jnjperfect” than" inapplicable”-not merely contemptible, but dangerous to their professors, by subjecting them, in a peculiar manner, to “ insult, injury, and injustice.

Now that the practice of these precepts would wholly exempt a man, or might not indeed in many instances be the express means of exposing him to insult, injury, and is justice, no one has ever pretended to affirm. Unfortunately, as society at present is constituted, there is, perhaps, no state of life, or mode of conduct, which could completely protect a man from the violence of his fellow creatures, and each several situation is of course exposed to its own various and distinctive modes of oppression, peculiar perhaps to itself, and different in nature and degree from those of every other; but it does not from thence the less plainly appear, that the serenity of a life of benevolence, and the quietness of a spirit of forbearance, are not less likely to expose their possessors to the insults and the injustice of mankind, than that quarrelsome spirit of resistance and retaliation, which Mr. Burdon and the world at large have designated as prudent and requisite, manly and ingenuous." And it is even a question, as a matter of mere policy, indepen. dent of the consideration of its propriety, whether a man could pursue better advice than that given by Jesus, to “agree with the adversary quickly."

The doctrine of forgiveness of injuries will indeed, if properly examined, be found at once admirably adapted to the wants and the true interests of mankind, and excellently calculated for the peace and security of society ; while, on the contrary, the principle of revenge or resistance, howerer modified, if once admitted as a general principle, or regarded as a praise-worthy and commendable motive of action, is extremely dangerous both to the general and individual happiness of the human race. It is in the very nature of retaliation to be at once boundless in its degree, and ceaseless in its operation; for if, on any given occasion, its exertion should even appear, in the first instance, to be both “ prudent and requisite” (which must however be wholly left to the discretion of a prejudiced individual)—if, however, it should be proved to be proper and even praise-worthy in the first instance, who shali determino the extent to which the evil may be carried, or the fatal consequences of which it may eventually be productive? Retaliation

on the one part serves but to excite retaliation on the other; the evil, like the accumulating snows of the Alpine regions, proceeds with accelerated progress; and, though perfectly harmless at the commencnent of its career, too often concludes in the desolation of the surrounding countries, and the destruction of all within the reach of its influence.

Nor can it be affirmed that this is an exaggerated picture, or that I am singular in affirming such to be the natural conse. quences of the system recominended by Mr. Burdon ; for it is against tliat very system, and these the natural consequences thereof, that the vast and extended machine of government bas, throughout all ages, and in every nation, been constructed and enforced. To take from individuals the power of discretionary retaliation, is the only legitimate object of every legislator. "Prevention for the future is now almost universally allowed to be the only rational plea for the infliction of punishment; but this, when left to the arbitrary discretion of individuals, always has been found, and always will be found, to degenerate into the exercise of revenge for the past. To remedy this evil, and do away its attendant ill consequences, are the sole ends proposed by political institution.* And let ine ask, has that end been obtained ? It surely has not. The general maxim on which governments have proceeded for the punishment and prevention of crime has been that of “an eye eye, and a tooth for a tooth;" and of the efficacy of this maxim, whether exercised by princes, or acted upon by individuals, we have had, and still continue to have, sufficient experience. The blood-stained page of history, the private annals of undiscovered violence, and the public records of the Old-Bailey, are comments on the text. The maxims of the world, and the principles of Mr. Burdon, have therefore been sufficiently tried in the balance, and they have invariably been found wanting. The evil still remains—the remedy continues yet undiscovered. Let us then briefly examine the efficacy of the much-despised precepts of Jesus. We have seen their probable effects on the individual, let us now consider their consequences to society, at large; and, for the sake of rendering these the plainer, and more apparent, let us for a moment suppose, that as many as now seek redress from the laws of their country, or expect to escape from futuro injustice by the exertion of a spirit of resistance, were to act upon the principle laid down by Jesus, of returning good for evil, and blessing those that persecuted them-let us, I say, suppose this, and is it not evident that the aggregate happiness, safety, and prosperity, of the human race, would be encreased to an incalculable degree ?

for an

* It has been justly observed (I believe by Mr. Burke) that all the taxes paid by the people are for the mere support of the twelve judges. The only business of those judges is to exercise that power of punishment and prevention by the laws, which is found so dangerous to society when committed to the discretion of individuals. A man who should now exercise that discretion is in fact out-lawed--to use the technical expression--" he has taken the law ir to his own hands;" and has therefore, by denying the necessity, divested himself of the advantages resulting from its exercinco

How many thousands are there who (animated by the muchboasted-of virtue “patriotism”) now regard with contempt and abhorrence the natives of every other country than their own, and think every means justifiable for their extermination ? Thousands, and tens of thousands, daily fall victims to this principle; but let me ask, could this be so, it men resolved to is love their enemies, to bless those that cursed them, and pray for those that despitefully used and persecuted them?”

For the numerous and destructive evils which have so long infested society--this, this is the only remedy. The discretion of individuals, and the providence of political institutions, are mere palliatives, which experionce has proved incapable of atfording more than a momentary and uncertain reliet, but this is an antidote, possessed of equal potency, and capable of an equal degree of extension with the poison it is intended to counteract-an antidote, which, if fairly exhibited to the system, will pursue the venom to the remotest fibre of the frame of society, and transmute the corroding mineral of revenge into the very “milk of human kindness. "

Carried away by my subject, I bave gone into greater lengths than I had proposed, and must therefore, at present, content myself with briefly observing, that the principle of forgiveness of injuries, as laid down by Jesus in the precepts in question, appear to me at once founded on the justest prin. ciples of philosophy, and the most correct and enlightened views of the nature and condition of mankind-hot more adapted to 'prepare man for happiness in a future, than ac, tually to render him happy in his present, state of existence.

If the world be indeed one great family, connected by a similarity of situation, and liable to a similarity of failings, then is universal benevolence and forbearance au indispensable duty.

If crimes proceed solely from ignorance, and vice be in reality wholly founded on error, then is it evident, that, to reclaim mankind, our appeal must be to their reason and thieir understanding, not to their fear of punishment or dread of retaliation. If, indeed, we wish to plunge then deeper in their delusion, we have only to resist the evil, and resent the

insults, injuries, and injustice,” which they offer us.

The man who wishes to banish violence from the earth, can only effectually hope to attain his purpose, by setting the example in his own person. Such a one, if struck on the one

cheek, must, rather than avenge himself on his assailant, turn to him the other also.

While he who sees things as they really are, and acts to up the principles which that knowledge communicates ; who feels that the true end of his being is not the pursuit of material dominion, but the attainment of mental excellence ; such a one surely will reject, as beneath the dignity of his nature, a conduct so degrading to a rational mind; and, disdaining to copy the example of the brute creation, will emulate to the utmost of his power, and imitate to the extent of his ability, the conduct of that all-wise and beneficent Being, who “ maketh his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and who sendeth rain equally, on the just and the unjust.' I remain, &c.

J. D. P. S. Mr. Burdon, in the course of his last communication, has put a question which appears to ine effectually to decide the dispute. Speaking of the precepts of forbearance advised by Jesus, he somewhat triumphantly asks. Is it thus that the clergy avoid going to law either for their tythes or their own private rights ?” It certainly is not; let me in turn ask a question of Mr. B. Would their doing so be to him any recon mendation of the principle !: ,

[ocr errors]

ON THE RESURRECTION,

To the Editor of the Freethinking Christians' Magasine.

SIR,

1

VHEN I addressed to you the two essays on the resurrec

tion, (vol. i. p. 540 and 565) though I thought them of importance, I had not any idea of their-exciting the attention of both Christians and Deists, and much less of meeting with a Christian's disapprobation. My mind not being changed on this subject, I consider it a pleasure to bear any censure they may produce.

In your last number, a Deist has offered me battle on conditions; to argue with such conditions would be, the having nothing to contend for; as, opposed to them, I have only to say that though I may guess at the attributes of Deity, I cannot assuredly know them, without he reveals them. Every conclusion concerning the past, present, and future, drawn from visible nature alone, is to me a mere hypothesis ; because, though the laws of the world should prove to be absolutely fixed, and their operations to be constantly and steadily uniform, yet still from such known laws, and such uniform operations, the wisest man would not be able exactly to deteraine the nature of Dei. ty, or his plan of administration.

Concerning the principle of life, we know not any thing. It is true, we can say, apparently when it begins to act, and also

[ocr errors]

generally when it has ceased ; but we cannot say, that it is in the organization alone ; or, that with the cessation of organic action, it will be extinguished; or, that it lays dormant, to give existence to a new being ; and, therefore, to say when it is absolutely extinct in aniinal or vegetable ; or if it ever is so extinct, seeing our ignorance, it is at present an impossibility for man to say. Neither can we say, that the few instances given of a revival to life after death, are forgeries or falsehoods ; it is the evidence alone that ought to determine our reception or rejection of such said-to-be facts.

Though the very nature of the conditions offered compels me, from their consequences, to reject them; I trust, that I shall not give otience, by proposing others that may bind us both to sound reasoning, right dispositions, and good manners; for this purpose I would propose

1. That the subject of the proposed controversy be intelligibly and clearly defined.

2. That you, Sir, shall be expected to lop off all extraneous matter; as also sneering, contemptuous, and unmeaning argument, and language.

3. That each shall argue upon his own principles, withoutthe other's unmannerly dictation.

Tome, Mr. Editor, these conditions appear absolutely necessary to be agreed on, for your credit and our improvement, before we enter into controversy; for at present, though we differ, the dispute is not began; but it is a mistake, a lapsis pennæ, when it is said there is a point at issue between us. There will be, when we agree to dispute, and have intelligibly and clearly defined our theme. That it is not yet so defined is evident, for the Deist says " The point at issue is the stability of the laws of nature. I chuse to state the question generally, as being the least invidious, and as, perhaps, the best fitted, also, for open discussion." After having made this general point to be at issue between us, the Deist proceeds to state the following proposition, that there is not sufficient reason to believe, that from the creation to this day, the laws of nature have, in a single instance, been disturbed, and that to raise a man absolutely dead, from the grave, strictly involves such a disturbance.” Now, Sir, if there is a point at issue between us, which is it? the general question, the stability of the laws of nature ; or tho particular proposition, the disturbance of those laws by the resurrection of the dead ? and, ifthe latter, is it the particular resurrection of Jesus, or is it the general resurrection of man?

As this gentleman has too much real ability to be incapable of defining his theme, he must have a reason for his confusion. I hope he will pardon me for my suspicion, that it is through fear, to use his own words, of starlling me with the magnitude of his intended subject, which I thi:k to be, the eternity of the

« AnteriorContinuar »